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Scenes From a Break-Up

by Laura Leon on August 3, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

I almost bolted from the theater when, in one of the first scenes of Crazy, Stupid, Love., Julianne Moore, playing an unhappy wife named Emily Weaver, tells her husband Cal (Steve Carrell) that she wants a divorce. She then goes on and on, trying to figure out just when “we stopped being us.”

Ugh. Cue the 1970s feminist-film clip montage, scored to “I Am Woman.”

But Crazy, Stupid, Love. (the filmmakers’ punctuation choice, not mine!) is one of those rare modern romantic comedies that improves with each scene. It’s also unusual in that it rather deftly blends disparate genres, not just romance and comedy but also bromance and straight drama. The collapse of the Weaver marriage is not so much about Emily’s infidelity with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon), for all Cal carps on that to any and everyone at the bar at which he takes up residence, but the very palpable disappointment and disillusionment that can come after spending more than 20 years together. Despite Cal’s assertions to his son Robbie (a soulful Jonah Bobo) that he and Emily are soulmates, we don’t see much of whatever spiritual glue might be holding them together, and this, admittedly, is one of the movie’s few but glaring weaknesses.

In steps Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a fellow bar habitué who is as suave and smooth as Cal is not. Jacob is the kind of guy every girl wants to go home with, and indeed, there is a funny yet telling montage in which Jacob’s technique with the ladies is highlighted. His signature line, “Let’s get out of here,” is presented not so much as a suggestion, but a promise of good things to come. He takes the pathetic Cal under his wing, transforms his image with designer duds and coaches him on what to say—and not say—to potential scores.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. develops slowly, with seemingly disparate scenes and unrelated characters being introduced, until an astonishing and very worthwhile climax clears up the plot’s mysteries. One sub-story has Robbie yearning for his slightly older babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who herself longs for Cal. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has scripted Robbie and Jessica’s interactions with sensitivity, so that even when she walks in on him masturbating, neither character is converted to caricature. Another tangent involves law student Hannah (Emma Stone), apparently the only female immune to the charms of Jacob. In movie shorthand, this is a meet cute that is bound to turn into something more, and when it does, it’s decidedly fresh and not at all what we’ve come to expect. Indeed, Stone, with her luminous looks and husky laugh, is the very best part of this movie, and not just because she shares our collective “eww” over Jacob’s too-perfect abs.

Along with the jokes, Crazy, Stupid, Love. dips its narrative toe into the waters of marital discord, of the apathy that can overtake a relationship. While we’re not given anything to make us believe that Cal and Emily were truly happy prior to their break-up, we do get the sense that, having been together so long, it’s a struggle to begin anew. While Moore’s character doesn’t have much to do, she acquits herself admirably, especially when riposting Cal’s one-liners. The scene in which the Weavers go to a parent-teacher conference is beautifully written and performed, as the parents unite for a brief moment, before a very funny, very unfortunate circumstance shatters their brief detente. Carrell plays his role fairly straightforwardly, subtly underscoring Cal’s basic humanity. Startlingly off-kilter is Marisa Tomei, playing a teacher Cal picks up one night. Tomei’s performance is one of the weirdest, shrillest ones I’ve ever seen, and I had no idea if she was supposed to come across as funny, pathetic, bizarre or all three.

The movie’s ending avoids pat cure-alls, and leaves us wondering what exactly the future holds for the Weavers. It’s this unwillingness on the part of the filmmakers to fit everything back neatly into its own box that helps make Crazy, Stupid, Love. as good as it is.