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Crazy Stupid Love (2011, rated 12A) opens with Cal (Steve Carell) and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) in the middle of what might just be the world’s most unsuccessful “date night”.   Stuck in a rut and  some comfortable clothing, we see them go through the motions with a mechanical efficiency.  They are a couple on completely different wavelengths – he wants Créme Brulée, she wants a divorce.  It’s a brilliant scene – funny, painfully believable and wonderfully underplayed.  It’s also a great introduction to this near-perfect romantic comedy.

Much of what follows covers the fallout from Emily’s announcement – particularly Cal’s attempts to get himself back in the game with the help of Ryan Gosling’s Jacob, the impossibly-smooth stranger who takes pity on him at a bar.  So far, so formulaic – although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that movie and I’d probably have enjoyed it well enough.  But Crazy Stupid Love is more interesting than that, balancing multiple characters and connecting stories as well as some of the classics.  So, in addition to Cal and Emily, we also get to see the babysitter’s story and follow a woman called Hannah (Emma Stone) as she tries to decide between her boyfriend Richard (Josh Groban) and a life that’s just a little more thrilling.  If Magnolia or Pulp Fiction were a rom-com, they would be this.

Most importantly, as a comedy this is all kinds of funny.  There’s one early scene that didn’t work for me at all (“it could have been cancer buddy”) but it’s the only mis-step in the film.  Otherwise, the opening scene sets the tone well with some brilliant observational comedy sitting alongside some broader stuff like the scenes in the gym, anything involving Marisa Tomei’s Kate and a fight to rival Mark Darcy v. Daniel Cleaver.  But above all it’s the dialogue that stands out most with quotable lines, some brilliant put-downs (“human Valium” indeed) and an abundance of gentle but highly-believable banter between the main characters.

It helps that those characters are so interesting and likable.  Cal is certainly pathetic but thankfully it’s in both senses of the word.  Yes, he starts out a loser.  But he stays so damn decent through the slaps, the disappearing friends and the regular put-downs I simply couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.  When Jacob says to him “you have a kind face … you seem like a nice guy” he gets it spot on but there is also some depth beneath the surface.  While the writing is excellent, a proportion of the credit should also go to Carell, who once again delivers an excellent toned-down performance to stand alongside “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dan in Real Life” (yep, love them both too).  As Emily, Julianne Moore is also terrific although I’m trying to recall a film where she’s been anything less.

The supporting cast also deserve credit.  Emma Stone doesn’t have that much to do but is particularly good when it matters (don’t worry, no spoilers here),  Kevin Bacon (as David Lindhagen, so good you might notice that they named him twice) is clearly enjoying himself and Marisa Tomei (as Kate) and Josh Groban (as Richard) do well – despite their characters being little more than punchlines for the main characters.  And as for Ryan Gosling?  Well he’s great, taking Jacob from a smooth but sleazy pick-up guy to something very different as the film goes on.  It would be easy to have made this incredibly cheesy but I never felt that was the case.  Actually, Jacob’s part in the story is another reason why I enjoyed this movie so much but I’ll save the rest of that for the spoiler section.

As good as they are individually, I felt that the chemistry between characters was probably what made the movie.  The relationship between Cal and Emily is definitely the stand out – it is honest and warm and I believed it entirely.  You can see why Emily wanted out but also why she might one day regret it.  From the chat in the car and offers to help with reversing to conversations about their “disgusting teenager” here was a couple that had spent a life together, not just a movie.    They can grow apart but also share what is surely the most romantic “water heater fixing” walkthrough in history.  However, it’s not just their relationship that I thought was done well – the scenes between Cal and Jacob, Hannah and Jacob, Robbie and Jessica (the babysitter) and even Emily and David are also good.  This is a film where even the “other man” gets to show some character.

So what we have here is a funny, heartwarming, romantic film with a good story and believable, interesting characters.  I sometimes wonder if genre films get the recognition they deserve.  Sod it, this one’s a classic.

In summary

An excellent film, not just an excellent romantic comedy.  Funny, heartwarming and surprisingly smart.  Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Would I recommend it

Yes, wholeheartedly.  Even if you don’t like the genre.

Caution:  the following discussion contains spoilers which you probably want to avoid it you haven’t seen the movie.

Extended discussion (includes spoilers)

Jacob – what’s in a name?

As I said up there, one of my favourite (and most surprising) things about the film was how Jacob’s character developed.  At the start of the film he’s basically a slimeball, albeit a good-looking, charming and successful one.  I didn’t notice until this viewing (my third one) but we actually don’t even get his name when we first meet him.  He is literally “that guy in the bar” to everyone up until Cal.

What I really liked was how the film then played on this later.  When Hannah is at his house (mercilessly deconstructing his game by the way) he keeps having to remind her he’s called Jacob.  When he then asks her “can you do me a favour…  would you ask me, something personal about myself?” it felt like the turnaround was complete.  Of course, we also then got to learn about his dad (“he was such a sweet guy, he was probably too sweet”) , and we realise just why he was so keen to help Cal.  He introduced himself as a “total tomcat in the sack” but we see now that he’s a pussycat.

Isn’t it more like Love Actually?

Now I love both movies so it’s no criticism but there was a reason I went didn’t go for the Love Actually comparison in my review – I think Crazy Stupid Love is a much better film.  Yes both are technically romantic comedies but they have little else in common.

Emma Thompson’s brilliance aside, it’s hard to imagine the characters in Love Actually existing outside of a Richard Curtis movie.  It is a cheesy, over-the-top warm hug of a movie and none-the-worse for it.  Love Actually is an excellent romantic comedy, but Crazy Stupid Love is simply an excellent film.

Any thoughts?

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