This is how you do a romantic comedy. Crazy, Stupid, Love is intelligent and mature, plus it has real balls. The last time I remember feeling this way was (500) Days of Summer, but if it’s only once every two years, it’s worth the wait. Not a McConaughey in sight here.
Right away the humor speaks to really important issues. Cal (Steve Carell) refuses to talk when his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce. It’s funny when he rolls out of a moving car, but he’s also really avoiding something with which he needs to deal. Then we meet Jacob (Ryan Gosling) picking up babes in a bar. His swagger is good enough but not so great that I’m jealous of his lines. That’s Mr. Notebook for you. And he still eats pizza, even with his Adonis body.
Jacob takes an interest in Cal out of sympathy. It’s Swingers meets Training Day when he shows Cal the ropes. The clubs are almost too loud to hear the dialogue, so the film is honest about even its locations. When Cal tries what Jacob taught him, it is too mean. That’s real. I did that. You learn The Mystery Method but if it’s not natural then you’re just insulting someone. The Hollywood twist is that he wins over Kate (Marisa Tomei) by being himself.
The story involves the whole family. Cal and Emily’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) gets to be funny, starring down Emily’s new boyfriend David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon.) Cal really talks to Robbie, and to Emily. I really love Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). This poor teenage babysitter is struggling to express herself but she’s so genuine and sweet. She makes some scandalous choices but it’s innocent and real. She’s also 13-year-old Robbie’s dream girl, and we’ve all been there.
There’s some real filmmaking going on in this too. Cal’s evolution with the ladies is shown in a tracking shot where Cal appears at a different table with different women without ever cutting. That’s an artistically sound use of visual effects. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa let a door open on Jessica and the light overexposes her. The love scene lighting is beautiful with a gentle camera.
Dan Fogelman’s screenplay knows when to shift focus, giving one thread a moment to simmer. After a blowout between Cal and Emily, Hannah (Emma Stone) finds her way to Jacob and it’s their story for a while. The ensemble intermingles organically. Funny dialogue still has emotional ramifications. The film never takes the easy way out with a misunderstanding fueling some empty doubletalk. Misunderstandings just bring the forces together but the film plays fair. They’re even smart about the rain cliché.
There is a moment where the wisdom of a child provokes a big speech from the parent, but they earned it. There’s still no easy fix. I can’t believe a studio film allowed so much ambiguity. Most of all, Robbie’s graduation gift is so daring I can’t believe Warner Brothers allowed it. I mean, it could seem inappropriate but not once you’ve spent time with these characters.