Here is a film from screenwriter Dan Fogelman where Ryan Gosling acts as wingman for an estranged Steve Carell; seems like a basic enough pitch for a movie, and yet thankfully it’s not quite that simple. Early on Jacob (Gosling) implores the washed-up Cal (Carell) to lose the New Balance sneakers and drop the Gap for good. What follows is a lesson in how to be a “man again.” Also known as picking up women with new clothing, a better hairstyle, and a whole different strategy. Cal’s a man trying to step out and try new things after he found that his estranged wife of 20 years Emily (Julianne Moore) slept with another man. His understandable reaction at the time he heard the news was to jump out of a moving car. It hurt him both figuratively and literally.
So Jacob is the beginning of something new for Cal as he steps out to meet women. Some of the scenes make me want to crawl up into a ball out of the sheer awkwardness and that’s often the type of humor that Steve Carell revels in. He likes to make us squirm, and it happens on numerous occasions. He says all the wrong things at all the right times. You get the idea. But behind all this, he still has feelings for Emily, and he’s wistful in the presence of his kids. Everyone wants them to get back together. However, he’s not the only one facing romantic issues as his son Robbie and wing man Jacob soon have their own problems. Emily must figure out what she wants and up and coming lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone) must figure what is the best for her.
As for Cal, he attends a Parent Teacher Night to end all Parent Teachers Nights and it has to be the worst circumstances you could ever imagine. It gets uncomfortable quick as he learns who his son’s teacher is. I’ll spare you the details. Then there’s a greatly hilarious twist that hits after all the primary cast find themselves in Emily’s backyard having a few unpleasant revelations. But the film doesn’t end there since the journeys of these characters have a little farther to go yet. They have to find themselves, navigating this crazy, and yes, maybe even a little stupid thing we know as love.
I must admit I like these guys in spite of those pick up lines (Lets get out of here) and attempts at romancing, because that stuff makes funny material for a film and we get some genuine laughs out of it, but it’s when we tear that down for a moment and look underneath all of that. That’s where we find true heart.
Most of these characters are well-meaning and likable and with those who aren’t, it’s forgivable, because they are necessary for the film’s humor initially. Namely Ryan Gosling and Liza Lapira, who always seem ready with a quip or maybe a one night stand with an obliging member of the opposite sex. The movie needs these characters I suppose since for starters it’s Jacob who helps Cal find a different side of himself. Liz who goads her friend Hannah to take a chance which she finally capitalizes on. But in truth, most all of these main players have a sense of humanity about them, mixed in with their faults and failures. Cal was once a good father and now he’s made a lot of mistakes. Jacob is a total womanizer, but when he cares about people he really does. He loses all the false pretense about him. Ironically, Cal changes Jacob as much or perhaps more so than Jacob changes him, which is important in the evolution of this film. They teach each other and in turn help each other move forward.
Even the teenagers Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) may have misguided affections in a sense, but we cannot help to empathize with them in their innocence. They’re young and in love and they don’t really know what that means. Very few of us probably do. Whether it’s finding “The One” or discovering your soulmate or not, it’s easy to forgive Crazy, Stupid, Love for its conclusions which might feel a tad cliche and bright. Just this one time, because these are characters who we don’t mind giving a happy ending to.