Friday, August 19, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

The trouble with Crazy, Stupid, Love. (aside from its title’s eccentric punctuation) is that there is so much of it. Though the romantic comedy, starring Steve Carell as a recently separated man, clocks in at a hair under two hours, watching it feels like a particularly long, meandering and aimless trip.

You can’t really fault the casting, which assembles stellar performers like Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, except to raise the obligatory objection to the leading-man status of Steve Carell, who doesn’t have the charisma casting directors seem to think he does, and whose character in this movie is not very sympathetic, though the audience is asked to sympathize with him nonetheless. Nor are the production values at fault, except for a particularly insistent pop soundtrack. The main culprit, as with most of today’s movies, is the script, which includes far too many stories, with jarring shifts of tone and lapses of coherence and taste. There are enough story threads in the movie to make up an entire season of a TV series, and the screenwriter ties them together in the clumsiest way imaginable.

The central story is about the breakup of the 25-year marriage of high school sweethearts Cal and Emily (Carell and Moore) when Emily announces she has slept with a co-worker and wants a divorce. Cal’s response is stony silence, followed by a sudden leap from the couple’s moving Volvo. Cal moves out of the family home, leaving behind his heartbroken children and moving into a bachelor pad. He spends his nights drinking at a cocktail lounge that seems to have been imported from an earlier, pre-AIDS decade, when singles’ bars were commonplace. Cal sits at the bar sipping his vodka and cranberry juice and loudly lamenting his wife’s unfaithfulness.

His pathetic display catches the attention of Jacob (Gosling), a slick young roué similarly imported from another era, who decides (à la Hitch or The Pickup Artist and probably a few movies I’ve never heard of) to take Cal under his tutelage and show him the manly art of seducing women. He throws Cal’s New Balance sneakers over a railing (“Are you in a fraternity?”), outfits him in a slick new wardrobe, and allows Cal to watch and learn as he seduces a different comely lady every night, using lines and techniques that would get him laughed out of a real singles’ bar.

Cal proves a willing pupil, eventually stumbling his way into a night of passion with a sexy teacher (Marisa Tomei), which opens the floodgates to his new avocation of womanizing (one wonders when he has time for his job). At the same time, Cal wants desperately to get back together with Emily, whose one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon, who plays the co-worker she cheated with, is proving to be less interesting than she thought. (Furthermore, Bacon is too much a movie star to convince as a nerdy accountant; maybe he should have swapped parts with Carell.)

When the movie promises to be about the education and re-education of a “pickup artist,” it is fairly witty and entertaining. But the movie wants to be too many things – a bittersweet divorce drama, a young adults’ love story (when Jacob falls in love with a young woman played by Emma Stone), an adolescents’ love story (when Cal’s son pursues an obsessive crush on the family babysitter, who in turn has an unhealthy crush on Cal).

A separate storyline involving recent law school graduate Hannah (Stone) and her romantic travails seems completely irrelevant, until the last act, where it’s tied in by way of an unconvincing coincidence, one of several in the movie.

It is as if, rather than two directors, the movie had two writers (if both housed in the person of Fogelman). Alongside many scenes of wit, taste and sensitivity (the jokey, affectionate conversations between Cal and Emily, the friendly intimacy between Hannah and Jacob), there are questionable lapses, such as young Robbie’s middle-school grade graduation speech — a rambling and irrelevant lament about how love stinks — and an inappropriate “graduation gift” he receives from babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) that the movie presents as cute, but that would in real life get her arrested for corrupting a minor.

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