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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Glenn Ficara & John Requa, 2011

1. Crazy,
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
That’s the name of the new Steve Carell-Ryan Gosling-Julianne Moore romantic comedy, from the directorial team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris), and the title actually does consist of those three words, two commas and a period. If that seems whimsical and a bit forced, so does the movie, which is also that great rarity these days: a romantic comedy that actually makes you laugh, a “rom-com” that has a script with witty dialogue and sharp characterizations, cleverly stylized direction and even a few ideas about life and love and Dirty Dancing to share with us.

It’s a divorce comedy, mixed with a little bromance, and it has dialogue you could call “crackling” — and it shatters the current rom-com norm by being funny (which most would be romantic comedies these days definitely aren’t), by being knowing about people (which many current movies these days aren’t) and, at times, by being genuinely romantic (which much of our culture isn’t.) Smart, funny, romantic. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.

I liked it. It made me laugh, and there were plenty of others in the theater chuckling, tittering, guffawing. And I’ll bet it makes some of you laugh too, although some of you may be a little shocked (offended?) by how far the movie goes to get some of those laughs — while others will pleased by the show‘s classical construction and relative respect for its audience‘s intelligence. (It’s a post-Billy Wilder movie, and it’s also post-Judd Apatow.)

In Crazy, Stupid, Love., Carell — as cut-loose husband Cal Weaver — is playing his specialty: a nervous, slightly pompous white collar guy trying to be a stud and a player (or to be mistaken for one). And he does it so well by now — after several years as the dorkishly manipulative boss Michael on “The Office,” and a film career going like sixty ever since The 40 Year Old Virgin — that he can carry this kind of character into the diciest psycho-sexual dilemmas and still maintain a semblance of sympathy.

As for Julianne Moore, who remains one of the best American actresses around even when she’s given relatively little to do (like here), she plays, as well as anyone could, Cal’s discontent, wandering but basically good-hearted wife Emily, who kicks off the story by announcing, during dinner for two on the town, to her one-woman hubby, that she’s cheated on him by getting six degrees too close to Kevin Bacon. Bacon plays Cal‘s pal David. And, oh yeah, she wants a divorce

2. Stupid,
Demoralized, Cal sulks and then hurls himself from their car on the way home. Later, he moves out of the house — encouraging his 17-year old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, a find) who has a crush on Cal, and angering his 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who thinks his dad should be fighting for his mom, instead of abandoning the field — and who, by the way, has a crush on Jessica. Cal, angry with himself too, tries to try to vent that wrath by drinking himself into stupors and muttering incoherently about cuckolds at the local bar, where he’s spotted by a slick sexual operator named Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who sympathizes with him — and the real, money part of the movie gets under way.

The best divorce (or separation) comedies I can think of offhand are Leo McCarey’s 1937 The Awful Truth, with Cary Grant trying to get Irene Dunne back from Ralph Bellamy, and Paul Mazursky’s 1973 Blume in Love, with George Segal trying to get Susan Anspach back from Kris Kristofferson. Crazy, Stupid, Love., though is something more. It’s also a buddy comedy, and a good one. Jacob, though slight and somewhat overly boyish looking in a Ryan Gosling-ish sort of way, proves to be the bar stud, able to seduce women almost at will — with the puzzling exception of tart-tongued and unhappy Hannah (Emma Stone, and more on her later). Taking pity on the obviously distraught Cal, Jacob offers to school him gratis in the fine art of bedding the fair sex, something Cal — who married Emily after high school and never slept with another woman, ever — never learned how to do.

So the buddy-buddy rites take over. Jacob takes Cal to the men’s store, and supervises a makeover, complete with fashion tips, grooming tips, couth tips, cool tips and most importantly, attitude and presentation tips. Then the tutor takes the pupil out on hunting expeditions, and though Cal still manages to be something of a doofus (another Carell specialty), soon he’s ready for Lesson One: Marisa Tomei as Kate, a heavy-drinking teacher with a killer smile and a weakness for extravagant compliments. You’d think this would be a snap, but, as the scorpion said to the frog while ferrying him across the stream, there are always consequences.

Now seems as good a time as any to digress into what seems to me one of the major reasons this rom-com deviated from the norm and made me laugh, when most current examples are slick or obnoxious, mediocre and unfunny and don’t make me crack a smile. To wit: the script by Dan Fogelman.

It’s been puzzling, and even a little irritating, recently, that so many of today‘s rom-coms seem to be geared toward lewd teenagers, while so many feature cartoons , allegedly for children, seem so much smarter and funnier (and even more romantic) than the alleged adult romantic comedies for alleged adults, or even alleged teenagers. What’s the norm? Bad, Rom, Com.

I guess we were ignoring the obvious solution: Start hiring some of the animated feature scenario-writers to write live-action rom-coms with live-action adults. That‘s what they’ve done with Crazy, Stupid, Love. The directors, Ficarra and Requa, are pretty sharp writers themselves. (They did Bad Santa for Terry Zwigoff, The Bad News Bears for Richard Linklater, and I Love You, Phillip Morris for their own directorial debut.) But the official screenwriter here is Fogelman, and he wrote, quite well, the mostly amusing, humane and funny scripts for Disney cartoons like Cars, Cars 2, Tangled.

The result is the kind of wittily and savvily written, neatly stylized, juicily acted movie-about-love that has recently, with a few exceptions like Bridesmaids (and Woody Allen‘s annual outing), seemed a nearly lost art and a nearly extinct species.

I’m not saying that Crazy, Stupid, Love.’s script elevates Fogelman, or Ficarra and Requa, to Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges, Woody Allen and Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin territory (or even, more recently, to Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor). It doesn’t. But it’s a good romantic comedy script, one which doesn’t rely on scatology, slapstick or farce, though it doesn’t shy away from them either. This movie may make you uneasy, especially when babysitter Jessica starts sending out nude photos to Cal. But it should keep you entertained and amused and occasionally surprised.

3. Love.
Comedies are funny partly because they can tell the truth and get away with it — and I guess how you react to this one depends on how truthful you think it is. Yet one of the things to appreciate in Crazy, Stupid Love is how unabashedly it gives us a lead romantic couple (Cal and Emily) in their forties, and lets them be attractive and witty and madly in love — or at least wife-ishly and husbandly in love — without succumbing to the great American pop culture sin of ageism. Or, in rom-com terms the Justin Timberlake Syndrome.

In fact, one might even call Crazy, Stupid Love. a little Renoiresque, given its generosity toward all its characters. Cal may be a square but he’s a likable one, and even though Emily cheats, we like her too, especially when she calls up Cal at night to ask him for on-the-line help with household stuff that doesn’t need fixing — while he pretends he‘s at his new digs, even though he’s really out on their old lawn, tending it compulsively, and watching Emily through a window.

Dave is a pretty generous cuckolder too; he’s at least as nice, if not as dumb, as the characters in The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday played by that actor, you know, Ralph Bellamy. Ditto for Gosling as the generous stud. And we can like and appreciate Emma Stone’s Hannah (who has a big surprise for us) and Tipton’s Jessica and Bobo’s Robbie, and even Jessica‘s tantrum-throwing thug of a dad, Bernie (John Carroll Lynch). And, of course, Marisa Tomei. As Renoir had Marcel Dalio say in The Rules of the Game (no comparisons in quality, of course) , tout le monde a ses raisons. Everyone, Has, Reasons.

So they do, especially in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Its not perfect, God knows. Not, Much, Is. But when its cooking, even though it’s about older people (wrong demographics, I guess, at least if you‘re addicted to marketing clichés and ageism and bad rom-coms) it’s — oh, I don’t know — cool. Way, fuckin’, cool.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

  1. Sally says:

    I was on the fence about this one, but sounds like it is worth seeing. Thanks!


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon