3.5 stars (out of 5)
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a big, glossy, sloppy, but likable Hollywood relationship comedy. The screenplay is busy, so perhaps a guide to the character dynamics would be useful: Husband and wife Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) separate after Emily reveals she has been sleeping with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon). Handsome Jacob (Ryan Gosling) loves ladies and they love him, except for law school graduate Hannah (Emma Stone), who is resistant to his charms. Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) loves 17-year-old Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who babysits his little sister. An annoyed Jessica rejects his frequent romantic advances. She's smitten with middle-aged Cal, who has no clue that some teenager is pining for him. There's another link between some key characters, but the movie doesn't reveal it until late in the proceedings, so I won't detail it here.
The various plot lines are not given equal play. Most of the attention goes to Steve Carell's Cal and Ryan Gosling's Jacob. Cal is a good father and apparently a boring husband. After the split from his wife, he spends a lot of time at some sleek pick-up bar, boring anyone in his vicinity with the sad tale of his wife cheating on him. After witnessing the hapless display repeatedly, Jacob approaches Cal with a proposition; he'll teach him how to dress, groom himself and behave to actually be able to pick up women.
I enjoyed the ensuing makeover scenes. Do fashionable men really dress like that? So many layers! And then there are the gym scenes, where we get our first glimpse of Ryan Gosling's torso. Holy cow, who would have guessed that beneath the shirt of the respected independent film actor there was a ripped Bowflex body just waiting for its close-up!
Carell is engaging as a guileless schlub. His honesty early in the proceedings is startling and funny. I wondered for a bit if he would be painted as a compulsive truth-teller, but his frankness fades as the story unrolls, though not before he meets Kate (Marisa Tomei) in the bar. She finds his genuine answers sexy, leading to one of the film's most riotous scenes. Tomei is terrific, by the way. So is Gosling, who is smart enough to play his character straight. With his calculated approach to women, Jacob could easily have been insufferable, but Gosling presents the character as a man who believes in himself and his method of interacting with others. He is his own creation, and it works. Julianne Moore's character is less effective. Moore emotes all over the place, but Emily still feels underwritten. The subplots with the two teenagers longing for people they cannot have are amusing, thanks in large part to the gifted young actors.
About two-thirds of the way through, the movie sags, bogged down by the screenplay's awkward juggling of its various subplots. A leaden subplot involving Emma Stone's Hannah and some lump played by singer Josh Groban doesn't help. But the movie finds its footing in time to offer both the obligatory big wacky scene where all the subplots converge and a scene that provides a satisfying resolution. Crazy, Stupid, Love isn't structurally sound, but it has enough laughs and charm to stay afloat, providing a welcome destination for a warm summer night.