May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
August 23, 2011
At first, Crazy, Stupid, Love made me mad. With a bit of time, the vitriolic feelings have all but drained, leaving me with some benign images of Ryan Gosling in a suit. The movie is his, after all, despite its ambitions to be some sort of intergenerational portrait of love and its many splendors. Hollywood seems to think that if you put enough interweaving love stories together, it will all coalesce into an impression of meaning, vague but nevertheless ardent. In the overcrowded Crazy, Stupid, Love, the multi-story plot has just the opposite effect. It’s as if writer Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled) had so few ideas about love that he needed to drown the flimsy themes in a sea of characters.
To say that I am “disappointed” in Crazy, Stupid, Love is a concession that I was pulled in by its marketing, that its of-the-moment stars and Grizzly Bear song in the trailer made me want it to be more than it was. Lisa Shwarzbaum once said that a critic’s “disappointment” is evidence that the review is rigged– that “the critic’s job is to analyze the movie that is, not the movie that critic wants it to be.” Fair enough.
But it’s clear that “the movie that is” wants us to regard it as perceptive and universal and fresh. Crazy, Stupid, Love asks us to draw parallels between the love of a middle-aged divorcee, a twenty-something pickup artist, and a thirteen-year-old boy. “This is Crazy. This is Stupid. This is Love,” the tagline goes, promising at least some exploration of love as a messy, global truth. What we get is a series of bubblegum platitudes from the mouths of overqualified actors.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is ostensibly about Steve Carrel’s milquetoast Cal Weaver, who has just been unceremoniously dumped by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, basically unused). Zonked and teary, he ends up the sad sack cliche in the local bar. Dan in Real Life saw Carrel gloomy with a glint in his eye; here, he’s just defeated. This chic lounge also happens to be the habitat for Ryan Gosling’s first-class Casanova, Jacob. As Cal wastes away in Dad Jeans and New Balance sneakers, Jacob cannot sit idly by: he decides to play fairy godmother and transform Cal into a proper playboy.
This segment of the film is a comic playground for Gosling, who is clearly having the time of his life. The camera positively slinks over him as he leads us through Cal’s man-makeover. Tossing quips at Carrel’s mortified square, Gosling takes the film into the realm of clever slapstick. It seems, for a while, that Crazy, Stupid, Love will be a romantic parable, a frothy exchange of wisdom between men of different generations. You can see where it’s going– as Cal learns the ropes of womanizing, Jacob will begin to long for the stability of family life. You can walk across the multiplex to The Switch-Up to see a ruder incarnation of this reassuring American Male fantasy. Though Crazy, Stupid, Love bears little resemblance to a Judd Apatow film, it certainly takes cues from The Apatow School of Thematic Success– a titillating premise that winds its puerile way to romance and responsibility.
If only Crazy, Stupid, Love had contented itself to be a goofy, good-hearted man-fable. But no: it wants to be a romance. To have a romance, we need some female leads. For Cal, there is Emily: blathering, lost, and incapable of offering an explanation for her actions. Moore’s performance lacks charisma and center, but the character is grossly underwritten. Cal and Emily’s relationship is written in shorthand, suggesting love but never actually showing it. First, Emily dumps Cal for a man she doesn’t even seem to like. She seems to vaguely regret it. Cal descends into hedonism. He enjoys himself, then seems to vaguely regret it. The two meet again and share a conversation about how they “miss each other ” and “used to try” and “should have fought.” Why? Fought for what? What about marriage– about each other– do they miss? We see nothing of what they have in common, no sparks, no content; all we get are a few nostalgic remarks that the screenplay can’t be bothered to illuminate.
For Jacob, there is Emma Stone’s Hannah. She’s eccentric, electric, and unpredictable, squeezing more laughs out of a scene than should be possible. Her all-nighter with Jacob, replete with teasing, belly laughter, and confessions, is a revelation. In one night, Jacob is forced to contend with the prospect of falling in love. And we eat it up, because it’s the first genuine thing in the film– the first thing that suggests actual love, in all its crazy stupidness.
Crazy, Stupid, Love should have been about that. It could have been about that. It could have asked Jacob and Cal to deal with their misconceptions about love, to find new truths in unfamiliar territory and surprise themselves with the worthiness of a woman. But that all-nighter? It happens two thirds of the way through the film. Maybe more.
So how does the film busy itself in the meanwhile? Well, until now, I’ve failed to mention that there are actually six would-be lovers in the film, not four. I’ve omitted them for as long as possible because Crazy, Stupid, Love makes a whole lot more sense without the teenagers. But teenagers it has: 13-year-old Robbie, the Weavers’ son (Jonah Bobo), and 17-year-old Jessica, their babysitter (Analeigh Tipton). Both are victims of unrequited crushes– Robbie’s for his babysitter, and Jessica’s for Cal. The addition of these characters is supposed to round out the film’s concept of love, to show us its “craziness,” its ability to strike anywhere.
I am the first one to advocate for the seriousness of teenage love, which has the potential to be delicate and profound. But the film doesn’t have the decency to respect its young characters’ feelings; it paints them in broad, humiliating strokes. No seventh grader pursues an unreturned love with the boneheaded daring of Robbie Weaver, who harasses Jessica with texts, public speeches, and uncomfortable private confessions. No high school junior pursues an older man with a naiveté as bald as Jessica’s. Both adolescents are portrayed as single-minded and myopic; their pain is played for laughs.
Crazy, Stupid, Love insists on weaving this story in with Cal’s and Jacob’s, giving it equal weight and running time. But worse is that the film dares to offer Robbie’s tireless affection as some sort of inspiration for his father. The finale involves some speech-making about soul mates and never giving up on the one you love– and it seems that the moral is just as true for Cal’s 25-year marriage as it is for Robbie’s age-inappropriate crush. First, the film seems to mock its young characters; then it asks us to admire them for their dedication and grand gestures. Crazy, Stupid, Love tries to use the purity of adolescent love to illuminate and inspire that of the adults, but it has the opposite effect– it muddies the message, dragging “love” down to the lowest common denominator. Maybe there is room for a discussion of soul mates in a movie about an unraveled marriage and a reformed ladies’ man. But when you add in a junior higher, what are we even talking about anymore?
As a studio romcom, Crazy, Stupid, Love is not abysmal, especially with regard to the magnetic performances of Gosling and Stone. The climax has the properties of Shakespearean comedy, madcap and revealing, with some things to say about hypocrisy. As a comedy, it has its moments– how could it not, with this cast? But as a romance, it has no focus or internal consistency.
If you’re going to put a period after “love” in the title of your movie, you had better have something to say about it.
Lauren Wilford is an intern for Image journal and a film and music blogger. She studies aesthetics and narrative as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific University. You can find her at www.wilfordlauren.tumblr.com.