"Crazy, Stupid, Love." gets a little too crazy but hard to resist

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) 
118 min., rated PG-13.

Enough criticism has been made about the title of "Crazy, Stupid, Love." but quirky punctuation doesn't really matter when a romantic-comedy does more right than wrong. To be honest, it's kind of hard to resist. Giving his most grounded and vulnerable performance to date, whilst remaining the funny sadsack we all know, Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, a family man who has a bomb dropped on him in just the movie's opening moments. His wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), decides she wants a divorce after 25 years of marriage and then confesses to having an affair with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon, looking like he could use some bacon on his bones). Drowning his sorrows at a trendy lounge bar, Cal meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a rico suave lothario who can sweet-talk to any woman and take all of them home. Reminding him of someone he knew that also wore his heart on his sleeve, Jacob promises Cal to whip him into ladies' man shape, giving him a whole new wardrobe and helping with his womanizing game. Of course, none of the women compare to his soul mate, Emily. As for Jacob, he's a sweetie at heart and falls hard for Hannah (Emma Stone), a smart girl who doesn't fall for a cheesy pick-up line. Meanwhile, Cal's 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), claims he's in love with his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who's smitten with Cal. Love is not only crazy and stupid, but very complicated. 

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." is uneven, as most things are, but the actors' genuine chemistry and astute performances, and some strong writing go a long way. Carell sidesteps caricature, turning Cal into a sympathetic everyman that one can't help but root for. Gosling has impressed in straight dramatic roles, but even here, he's confident, charismatic, and truly magnetic as a pickup artist. His comedic acting chops and sex appeal complement one other. There's not really a fleshed-out character there on the page for Emily (why was she so bored with Cal?), but Moore has enough nuance and gravitas, and shares a deep, lived-in relationship with Carell that carries on screen, to tighten up that miniscule writing issue. Stone, relentlessly proving what a comic talent she is, shines as she always does, with her nontraditional beauty and sly, sharp-as-a-tack delivery. The hookup scene between Gosling and Stone, throwing "Dirty Dancing" and simple character-revealing conversation into the mix, is sexy and lovely . . . and that's without showing the hanky-panky. "Crazy" comes in the form of Marisa Tomei as Cal's first conquest. Her character is unpredictable, in terms of what the narrative does with her and how Tomei plays her; she's wild and hilarious, and should do comedy more often. Last but not least, both in their own subplot together, Bobo is a scene-stealer as Robbie and Tipton is a wonderful fresh face as Jessica. 

As directing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa proved to pretty capable of blending tones in "I Love You Phillip Morris," which called for it, this film has some mood swings and shifting of gears. But a lot of the humor comes from an honest place, and the jokes actually have context. Dan Fogelman's screenplay is not stupid but reasonably smart, with some clever surprises in store, even if all the plot threads come to a head as a set of convenient coincidences and a screwball brawl. The filmmakers should've trusted their low-key moments and done away with some of the bigger, more farcical moments. Also, the payoff with Jessica, Robbie, and her nude photos sends the wrong message, coming off more icky than endearing or amusing. 

Without playing down to its audience, most of the movie's characters are handled with care and depth rather than being dumbed down for the sake of plot gimmicks. Nobody decides to board a plane to Africa and then cancel their trip because their significant other might actually love them. Or, characters aren't separated from petty obstacles that couldn't have just been solved in a five-minute conversation over coffee. Cal and Emily are married, middle-aged people feeling the painfully brutal truth that the Honeymoon Phase is gone, and frankly, that's kind of refreshing. On the other hand, there is a "soul mate" public speech (at a middle school graduation, of all places), but doesn't feel as painfully contrived here. Given the state of romantic-comedies in the past two years, "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (along with other exceptions) feels like it's from the heart—funny, sweet, and appealing. 

Grade: B +