Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, 2011)

30Sep11

Ryan Gosling (Jacob Palmer), Steve Carell (Cal Weaver), Julianne Moore (Emily Weaver), Emma Stone (Hannah), Marisa Tomei (Kate), Kevin Bacon (David Lindhagen), Analeigh Tipton (Jessica). Screenplay by Dan Fogelman. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Rating: 12A. Running time: 118 minutes.

I sometimes wonder if I should add to my list of the most puzzling questions about the world – is free will real, or an illusion? Does God exist, or not? – the issue of why every romantic comedy Hollywood bashes out on an annual basis feels obliged to also be a drama, and include some all too serious moments as if we all need reminders that love and all that is important. Crazy, Stupid, Love is the latest exhibit in a long line of films reinforcing this God-awful trend, but it also makes you reflect on just how easy it would be to get the formula right. Were they merely to tweak their potion by extracting the poison that is the scenes of sincerity or ‘true love’ that seemingly beg for our hearts to be warmed, and insist upon us for some reason saying ‘Aww’ as we leave our seats, then they really would be on to something, and that holds true here no less than anywhere else.

Luckily this disappointing soppiness is mainly saved for the end. Before that, this film has a USP it exploits to its utmost, and it shows signs at times of giving us a real ride worthy of our entrance fee. That X Factor, of course, is mancrush of the moment Ryan Gosling. Between Blue Valentine and his role here, he’s quite remarkably gone from the sweet and idealistic but rough round the edges Dean to the suave stud we see here that girls only dream is the real Gosling behind the camera. Nothing can escape the fact that he’s a stupidly good-looking man, and fortunately the film knows this and uses it. The situation set up is a perfect one: a middle-aged self-flaggelating divorced bore is resurrected through the rediscovery of his manhood, with Gosling, of course, teaching him the art of modern pulling and the skill behind sexy dressing.

For all its apparent dullness, it turns out to be a barrel of laughs, and whilst this is the story arc pursued on screen the sparks truly fly. The camera occasionally even stops to film the men in slow-motion strolling with shades on as if we’re watching an extended Gucci commercial, and the technique works a treat, if only because Gosling turns out to be just too good at the smug look that his character’s personality plays upon. We know nothing about him except that he can get any girl he wants into his bed, and that’s all we need to know. Whilst it’s happening, we’re quite happy to continue watching him weave his verbal magic all night long.

Perhaps inevitably, though, to make this a feature film rather than a short, half a dozen other story strands are wrapped around the real fruit, and we’re left watching the tempo rise and fall like the FTSE on a frantic Friday. The most tedious is undoubtedly the thirteen year old son besotted with his slightly older babysitter, and the joke here threatens to wear so thin that we are almost left with no choice but to cynically assume the storyline is here to fill the minutes. Even worse is that it gives rise to the father intervening to make an awkward but ultimately applauded speech in public on his son’s school graduation day, again about love, and again seemingly seeking out our ultrasoft hearts like we’re as duped as Pavlov’s dogs. Not even the presence of such a strong supporting cast (Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore) can mask the smell of shit that clouds it all.

But in fairness, if there’s one thing that can be said in defence of the convoluted and intertwining love triangles that plague the plot and all lack energy apart from the Gosling strand, it’s that they do culminate in a scene involving all characters convening at once in a garden, and it’s surprising how well the humour pays off here. One wonders if the poor parts we have to put up with for most of the movie can at least be seen as instrumental to the making of this one fun scene. It’s also the scene that single-handedly explains the film’s curious title.

So more of Gosling the smooth teacher next time, please, and less of the preachy drama and mindless window dressing that taints an otherwise smart idea at its core.

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