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Forget marriage counseling. If you really want to know the status of your relationship, pay attention to what’s happening under the dinner table during a romantic evening out. Playing footsies means there’s still some spark. Flatfooted and aloof? You might as well start drawing up those divorce papers.
At least that’s where loving husband and father Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) finds himself during the opening scenes of the surprisingly pleasant albeit conventional and ineffectively titled romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. There’s no footwork here. In fact, his wife and high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) fesses up to an affair and pulls the plug on 25 years of marriage. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Tangled) doesn’t give much explanation as to how their marital problems have reached criticality, but you know things are extremely broken.
Drowning his sorrows at a posh local bar, Cal becomes the pet project of smooth-talking ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who takes pity on him and his middle-aged lameness. Their goal (besides referencing The Karate Kid and inventing the verb “Miyagied”): to rediscover Cal’s manhood and — most importantly — get him laid.
Fogelman doesn’t end his matchmaking venture with Cal. As in 2003’s British rom-com Love Actually, the narrative in CSL is layered with smitten characters and sometimes-underwritten secondary storylines. Here, Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is infatuated with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) who actually has a crush on Cal; aspiring lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone) hopes her nerdy boyfriend (Josh Groban) will pop the big question before she falls prey to Jacob’s charm.
While clichés are no stranger to CSL, the all-star cast is able to class up the situations to make them feel as funny and original as possible. Most of the film’s emotion hinges on Carell’s dramatic turn now that he’s proven he can be both hilarious and poignant in dramedies like Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life. In CSL, Carell trades barbs with Gosling and tears with Moore, but through subtle dialogue and gesture.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind the gay jailhouse romantic comedy I Love You Phillip Morris), CSL doesn’t offer anything on the marital front we wouldn’t have learned from watching a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. But like Cal, there’s something genuinely refreshing about its soft heart, honesty, and squareness, even while our hero mismatches tennis shoes and khakis with a straight face.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa; writ. Dan Fogelman; feat. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Jonah Bobo. (PG-13)