I missed Bridesmaids so I don’t know if its women got the chance to be as inspired and loony as they are in Crazy, Stupid Love. Marisa Tomei, for example, playing an eighth grade English teacher whose volatile temper blows when one night stand Carl Weaver (Steve Carrell) doesn’t return phone calls, shakes off the cobwebs of mousy yearning in which she’s been shrouded since In the Bedroom. Whether writing ASSHOLE in big letters on a blackboard or flicking Carrell a furtive bird at a graduation, Tomei isn’t afraid to look shrewish, which is rare in actresses over forty. She’s like Twelth Night‘s Malvolio as a twenty-first century woman. Emma Stone as Hannah, the work-devoted young lawyer who eventually lands Gosling after making fun of his lame Dirty Dancing seduction technique, has a way of rolling her eyes and saying perfectly sensible things to a gobsmacked Gosling without doing much. (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also directed last year’s marvelous I Love You, Philip Morris, do less interesting work with Julianne Moore, asked to play a wan drip for the upteenth time).
Uneven, uncertain about wanting to lapse into a bawdier kind of comedy, at its best Crazy, Stupid Love honors its title. Ficarra and Requa’s lack of filmic imagination — actors are shot in pairs and medium shot, with cuts between them for emphasis — is straight out of network television; the approach hurts Moore’s performance and shoves other supporting characters out of the frame, literally. There’s a little sister to whom we’re barely introduced: when the first thing she does on entering Carrell’s new bachelor pad is turn on MTV and start dancing, Ficarra and Requa don’t bother including her in a scene between Carrell and the babysitter infatuated with him (the googly-eyed, excellent Analeigh Tipton, expert at registering shame and confusion). The directors don’t lack for generosity; they just don’t know what to do with the camera yet (a problem afflicting I Love You Philip Morris too). This love roundelay produces what may be the most genuine unexpected twist in recent movies, worthy of Preston Sturges himself, as well as the most maudlin graduation speech. The directors (and writer Dan Fogelman) believe in “soulmates,” a foul word I want stricken from dictionaries, and when they resort to homilies and an endgame conversion by Gosling to the marvels of monogamy the picture goes splat. So full of self-pity is the right wing that it won’t ever notice, much less acknowledge, the iron-ribbed conservatism coursing through Hollywood film.
But Crazy, Stupid Love is also filled to surfeit with love for its characters, and maybe rigid tonal control would have constricted the movie’s perplexing emotional crosscurrents. Ryan Gosling is the one we’re not supposed to take our eyes off — a risk because if we don’t believe his Casanova the whole silly contraption crumbles. As a young man who has absorbed every style lesson proffered by Details and GQ, including how to mix the bitters in an orange cocktail, Gosling is as serious as if he’d accepted one of the Method-indebted roles for which he’s famous: the agonized guys in Blue Valentine and The Believer, and without the self-mocking glint he brought to Half Nelson. What makes Jacob his best role and performance is delighting in how years of actorly penance have taught Gosling economy (sometimes all he does is arch a contemptuous eyebrow). But he’s the most alert person in the room, and I could understand why when he mutters “Let’s get outta here” the girl accepts his command (even Stone). Thanks to Gosling, Stone, and a precocious-in-a-good-way young actor named, I hope, Jonah Bobo, Crazy, Stupid Love is more fun than anything out now.