Would you ever take the advice of your thirteen-year-old self? Would you look back to your days as a batch of hormones and angst and say, “I was so wise back then. What happened?” Crazy, Stupid, Love. takes an “out of the mouths of babes” approach to serious romantic relationships and as a result an honest but funny relationship dramedy gets a saccharine sheen that completely overwhelms the film in the final act. Ultimately, great performances and cute humor can’t withstand the stalkerish affections of an 8th grader.
The story has three interconnected love stories. The first has Cal (Steve Carell) getting a surprise divorce from his wife of twenty-five years, Emily (Julianne Moore), who reveals that she cheated on him with her co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Shocked and despondent, Cal takes to haunting a bar with his depression and he comes to the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is a lothario who decides to remake Cal into a ladies’ man and help the sad-sack middle-aged guy reclaim his masculinity. However, Jacob then begins to fall for Hannah (Emma Stone), a recent law school graduate who thinks she can break free of her predictable, PG-13 lifestyle if she sleeps with him. The third storyline involves Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and his constant and irritating proclamations of love for his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Unfortunately for young Robbie, Jessica has a secret crush on Cal.
The Cal storyline is easily the strongest of the three. Carell has an uncanny knack for blending the melancholy with the comedic and he knows how far to sink Cal into sadness before cutting the tension with a well-placed reaction. There are few comic actors who can match Carell for his comic delivery. I’m convinced that he could say any sentence and make it sound funny. More than that, he’s a generous actor who is completely willing to share the scenes with his co-stars and let them have the laughs as opposed to simply providing set-ups for his next big joke.
Playing off of Carell allows Gosling to explore a comic side we’ve rarely seen from him before. Gosling seems to be having a blast as the smooth-talking, completely confident Jacob. It’s an incredibly smart performance because Gosling tinges everything with a little bit of innocence and softness so that Jacob never comes off as sleazy or insecure. This added touch is essential for later in the film when Jacob starts to fall for Hannah because we knew he had this side to him all along.
Unfortunately, the development of the relationship between Jacob and Hannah comes near the end of the second act and it highlights the film’s pacing issues. Crazy, Stupid, Love. never quite pulls off the balancing act it hopes to achieve and tends to place a lot of time into Cal’s story, making irritating distractions with Robbie’s story, and taking Jacob out of the film for far too long. Carell can easily carry the movie and the Robbie stuff is thankfully brief (although it feels like an eternity), but when Jacob and Hannah re-enter the story it shows the difficulty of managing three storylines.
Where Crazy, Stupid, Love. needed to make its cut was with Robbie’s story. The purpose of his arc is to remind the other characters and remind the audience about the innocence of young love and how crazy and stupid it can be (not the original title, by the way—at one point they were considering “Wingman”) and isn’t that wonderful? Except Robbie’s behavior just seems crazy, stupid, and also creepy. He has no problem telling Jessica that he was masturbating about her, he constantly proclaims his love for her despite her constant rejection, and even goes so far as to build a platform, take it to school, and then open the curtains to once again tell her how much he loves her. What’s missing from his constantly explanation is why he loves her. Do they share interests? Is she particularly kind to him? Or is he just really horny? I wasn’t rooting for Robbie as much as I was praying that Jessica would get a restraining order. The filmmakers clearly don’t share my opinion and they go all in with the movie’s uncomfortably corny climax that shatters any credibility the film may have amassed in its previous 90 minutes.
So much of Crazy, Stupid, Love. is working against its cloying script. The entire adult cast turns in great performances that are sweet without being sappy, emotional without being manipulative, and funny without being obvious. They’re the heart of the film and they struggle mightily against the pandering and idiotic subtext that young hearts know best in matters of love, but eventually all of the characters have to succumb to this idiotic belief.