Monday, August 8, 2011

Love is crazy... and often, stupid...

This weekend, in addtion to buying a new pair of running shoes (tax free), I added another movie to the list of those I’ve seen in the theater... Crazy, Stupid, Love. 
Spoiler alert... I don’t usually give a lot of details about the plot when I talk about the movies I’ve seen, but in this blog I do.  Stop reading now if you plan to watch the movie.
The basic idea of the movie is to use three generations of romantic attraction to demonstrate that when it comes to love, experience counts for little.  It's a movie that understands love because it understands pain. It is, for the most part, an effective love story, but the two figures that captivate one another (and the audience) aren't the ones you think… It’s actually the magnetism between the movie's two lead male actors that really makes the movie work.
At 40-something, straight-laced Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is living the dream... good job, nice house, great kids and marriage to his high school sweetheart. But when he learns that his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), had an affiar and wants a divorce, his “perfect” life quickly falls apart. And what’s worse is that Cal, who hasn't been a part of the dating scene for 25+ years... or really ever... stands out as the epitome of unsmooth. He now spends his free evenings miserable and alone at a bar.  Enter Jacob (Ryan Gosling)... an extremely successful ladies’ man who sees Cal at the bar and takes him under his wing to teach him all the right moves… starting with an overhaul of his wardrobe.  In an effort to help Cal get over his wife and embrace the man inside him, Jacob opens Cal's eyes to the many options before him. Cal becomes an avid student in the rather depressing art of treating sexual banter as a manipulative science.  While most romantic comedies give guys insight (that they usually miss anyway) into the way women think, Crazy, Stupid, Love actually works the other way giving women a glimpse into the male mind.
At this point there are two separate plots in the movie… Cal’s and Jacob’s.  We’ll start with Cal’s.  Jacob’s instructions finally pay off when Cal scores with a lonely woman (who in a different plot with an ironic twist, turns out to be his son’s eighth grade English teacher) giving him a renewed confidence in himself and leading him through a series of one-night stands.  But despite Cal's makeover and his many new conquests, the one thing that can't be made over is his heart, which seems to keep leading him back to where he began.
And Jacob’s plot… his polished pick-up routines work on a dazzling array of women until it hits a wall.  He can’t get anything but laughter and sarcasm from Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student who sees through every one of his lines.  Until Hannah suffers a devastating disappointment in her relationship (with a guy not good enough for her anyway) that causes her to rebound into Jacob’s arms to instigate a genuine relationship that takes both parties by surprise. 
Cal and Jacob aren't the only ones looking for love in all the wrong places.  The movie is also about Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son, Robbie who is “in love” with the family’s 17-year-old babysitter, who ironically, is in love with Cal.  It's about Hannah who is trying to run her romantic life in as controlled a fashion as her career, and what happens when she meets Jacob.  It's about Emily's relationship with her dorky coworker that broke up her marriage, Cal's fling with the crazy teacher and the feelings Cal and Emily still have for each other.
And then… at just the right time… the script throws in three startling revelations about cunningly hidden relationships among the characters which leads to a climatic free-for-all that brings nearly everyone to an unplanned showdown in the Weaver backyard.  In most movies, I am able to pick out a favorite line… this was unfortunately not one of them due to the lack of meaningful dialogue.  However, this impact of this scene almost outweighs that of any one liner.  It was the moment where Cal was trying to win his wife back with the help of their two young children.  That’s interrupted when Cal realizes that the “game changer” Jacob’s been telling him about is his little Hannah Banana, at the same time the audience realizes that Hannah is Cal and Emily’s daughter.  Also thrown into the mix was the babysitter and her extremely angry father who discovered naked pictures of his daughter and her plans to send them to Cal.  That played into the plot of Cal’s young son experiencing his first broken heart when he realizes his father is his competition.  All while the adulterous coworker shows up to return the sweater Emily left in his car.  Every emotion imaginable was happening in this one scene simultaneously… frustration, distrust, anger, envy, jealousy, embarrassment, hurt, sadness, fear, doubt, regret, disappointment… but also happiness, love, surprise, sympathy, humor, hope, compassion and faith. This scene is the perfect representation of what life is like.  A big mess of confusing emotions that somehow all work out in the end. 
So what’s lacking?  It would have been nice to see Jacob’s advice to Cal actually have a positive impact on how he now treats the taken-for-grated Emily. And it would have been equally nice to see Cal’s adoration of his family have an impact on the determined-to-remain-single Jacob.  The movie suggests these things happen, but you don’t get to see it.  I guess that’s where I write my own happy ending. 
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the movie was “the perfect combination of sexy and cute,” (borrowing from one of the few lines I actually remember)… Crazy, Stupid, Love was definitely worth seeing.

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