Thursday, July 28, 2011

A sad-sack loses his soul mate

Steve Carell joined by a talented cast in Crazy, Stupid, Love
Steve Carell looks like a guy many of us might have gone to school with at some point or other. Carell, who made his big-screen breakthrough in 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is neither impossibly handsome nor off-puttingly strange? His movie characters sometimes have a sad-sack quality, but can seem entirely normal -- in a middle-of-the-road sort of way. Not a comic who likes to poke a finger in anyone's eye, Carell wouldn't seem out of place on line at a Home Depot store.

An improbable leading man, Carell's comic skills nonetheless have made him a headliner, and his latest comedy -- Crazy, Stupid, Love -- surrounds him with a moderately successful mixture of relationship issues, rom-com cliches and better-than-average farce.

In Crazy, Stupid, Love Carell plays Cal, a married man whose wife (Julianne Moore) tells him she wants a divorce. After a 25-year-marriage that began with a middle-school romance, Cal and Moore's Emily probably are together more out of habit than love. To seal the divorce deal, Emily confesses to an affair with one of her office mates, an accountant played by Kevin Bacon.

Once rejected, Cal slips into full-blown depression. He also becomes an unlikely regular at an upscale singles bar, where he's the proverbial fish out of bottled water. At the bar, Cal meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a slick womanizer who decides to give Cal a makeover. Jacob wants to turn Cal into a mirror image of himself, a smooth operator and certified play-ah. This is what's known in the trade as a necessary contrivance, a development that allows the movie to continue and gets Hal off his bar stool.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a movie composed of meanwhiles, perhaps too many of them. Cal emerges as a love machine, and his eighth-grade son (Jonah Bobo) falls for his baby sitter (Analeigh Tipton), a girl who's four years ahead of him in school. Bobo's Robbie embodies the movie's major theme, which has to do with finding one's soul mate and pursuing him or her without fear of appearing either crazy or stupid.

In yet another "meanwhile," a young woman (Emma Stone)* rebuffs Jacob's advances; she's busy studying for her bar exam. But when Stone's Hannah is slighted by an attorney (Josh Groban) she assumes has fallen for her, she seeks out Jacob in what amounts to an expression of defiance and anger. Of course, Stone's Hannah falls for Jacob, and, of course, he suddenly realizes that there's more to life than sexual conquest. He's in love, too.

Jacob and Hannah close their love deal in a very amusing comic scene that pokes well-deserved ridicule at the final dance sequence of Dirty Dancing with its Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes rendition of Time of My Life. Last seen in the gritty Blue Valentine, the talented Gosling avoids turning Jacob into a caricature. Moore seems a little worn out in an underdeveloped role. An outgoing Stone, with her "I'll-try-anything" attitude, plays well against Gosling's cool.

I laughed at Marisa Tomei's increasingly broad portrayal of the teacher who becomes Cal's first conquest, and who lives to regret it.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris) work their way (not always successfully) through the variety of tones in Dan Fogelman's hit-and-miss screenplay. Still, a first-rate cast and a couple of well-staged comic high points push Crazy, Stupid, Love into the plus category. You'll have to make up your own mind about a sentimental, end-of-movie speech that threatens to turn Carell into the Jimmy Stewart of love.

Did it warm my heart? Not really. Carell and Moore never convinced me that they were soul mates. Still, when Crazy, Stupid, Love magnifies a comedy of misunderstanding into moments of giddy farce, it comes awfully close to fulfilling the whacky mandate of its title.

*When initially published,I incorrectly called Emma Stone, Emily Stone. My bad.

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