Spoilers ahead for Crazy, Stupid, Love. Do not read on if you do not wish to be spoiled.
I meant to write this review about eight months ago when I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love. in theatres. I wanted it to be a companion piece to my review of I Love You Phillip Morris as both were directed by the creative team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. (Ficarra and Requa also wrote Phillip Morris. They did not write Crazy, Stupid, Love.) But I was lazy, and time passed, and I forgot most of what I wanted to say about CSL, so this draft languished in my overpopulated “drafts” folder, doomed never to see the light of day.
Thank goodness for movies on-demand, am I right?
What follows is cobbled together from my original review and my thoughts upon today’s rewatching. Spoiler: I loved it as much the second time as I did the first.
My reasons for seeing Crazy, Stupid, Love. originate with (and could, not unfairly, be reduced to) the scene in the trailer where Emma Stone tells Ryan Gosling to remove his shirt and then informs him that he looks photoshopped:
I first learned of the wonder that is Ryan Gosling’s chest in Blue Valentine, where he plays a butterfaced hipster who five years later is a schlubby beer-bellied sad sack. Both on-screen and off, Gosling’s appearance swings wildly between “wouldn’t fuck him for money” and “take me now,” and he spends most of Blue Valentine in the first category. This makes the moment where he pulls off his schlubby shirt to reveal lats I want to lick all the more shocking. So a movie that chooses to prominently highlight said torso is basically a gimme The fact that it stars Steve Carrell and a number of other people reliably considered to be good at acting made me think it even might not be a total disaster.
The good news is that it isn’t remotely a total disaster. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is smart, hilarious, sincere, and at times achingly honest. Its cast is also completely insane. Let’s talk about them for a minute. The always wonderful Steve Carrell turns in a spectacular performance as Cal, the cuckolded husband trying to figure out who he is (seriously, Oscar voters, comedy is hard and sincerity is harder and Carrell is amazing at both, how far up your asses are your heads, exactly?), in which task he is aided by Ryan Gosling’s Jacob Palmer. The jury’s still out for me on whether Ryan Gosling can act or if he just keeps getting cast really, really well, but he made three movies this year and I went apeshit for all of them. So there’s that. If nothing else, I trust him now. Emma Stone plays Hannah, a chick whose role I won’t divulge because it’s a massive spoiler, but she’s impossible not to love in whatever she does. Also, younger than me. That freaks me out. I’m not going to discuss Julianne Moore as Cal’s wife Emily because I can’t fucking stand Julianne Moore, I want to punch her in the teeth pretty much 100% of her screen time in any movie ever, so I can’t reliably judge her performance. I guess it was good. I mean, she only ever does one thing, but she does it well, so whatever. I also want to shout out the lovely, hilarious Liza Lapira as Hannah’s best friend Liz (favorite line: “You should be studying the gentle curve of his cock! … Was that too much?”) and wonderful child actor Jonah Bobo as Cal and Emily’s son Robbie. If Bobo can keep landing roles surrounded by experienced actors who push him, he should have an incredibly bright future. He’s already stealing scenes from accomplished actors several times his age.
So let’s talk about the film’s premise, its wonderful bits, and where it goes slightly off the rails. Cal (Carrell) and Emily (Moore) have been married for something like 25 years when Emily cheats on Cal with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon) and asks for a divorce. Cal basically implodes and flees to a local bar, where he meets inveterate ladies’ man Jacob (Gosling) who, like a cinematic Barney Stinson, decides to take Cal under his wing and teach him how to live. That includes banging lots of chicks, which brings me to one of my favorite things about Crazy, Stupid, Love.: its depiction of casual sex. Jacob picks up lots of women, and he and Cal talk about his method for doing so pretty extensively. We’re clearly supposed to be looking at a master of seduction in Jacob. Now, the very concept of seduction is problematic. It implies that women have no say, that we’re being tricked into sex despite ourselves. Many movies and tv shows are quite willing to go along with this idea, depicting women as dupes who’d ne. ver consent to sleep around as much as they do if they knew what was really going on. But CSL puts the lie to that idea quite quickly. One of the first scenes in the film is Hannah shooting Jacob down pretty viciously while Liz throws herself at him. Both chicks are totally agentive; what Jacob says doesn’t really matter. Hannah isn’t going home with him, but Liz would in a heartbeat. And I know some people disagree on this point, but I think it’s pretty clear that Jacob isn’t actually that smooth. He just looks like this: And he’s confident and willing to spend money. So chicks exercise their agency and choose to go home with him. That’s one of the things Crazy, Stupid, Love. gets right.
It also does a pretty fantastic job depicting interpersonal relationships in a believable way. One of my biggest pet peeves is when we don’t get to see why two people like each other. Often we’re only shown one side of an attraction. Sometimes we don’t actually see either side, the filmmakers seemingly content with “they’re both pretty, so why not?” Crazy, Stupid, Love. goes out of its way to show why its characters like each other. Jacob and Hannah’s first night together, which they spend talking and laughing, reminds me of any number of late night conversations with people I’ve loved. Both are funny, smart, interesting, and most importantly, interested in each other. Cal and Emily have been married for a zillion years. The film never lets you forget the weight of that marriage or why the people involved in it might be invested in rebuilding it. The relationships in Crazy, Stupid, Love. are fundamentally believable and sincere, saving it from the cardinal sins of most romantic comedies.
So if CSL gets so much right, what does it get wrong? (Here’s where the spoilers come in.) I have two major problems with the film: its semi-vilification of Cal, and the way it goes along with that trope where the best way to get a woman to love you is to stalk her.**
The film begins with Emily informing Cal that she slept with someone else and wants a divorce, yet every self-abnegating action in the film is taken by Cal. He’s the one who moves out of the house. He’s the one who gets scolded by his precocious child for not fighting to get his wife back. He’s the one who has to do so. And he’s the one who gets publically shamed for his sexual activity, even though everything he’s doing is consensual and above-board. This plays into any number of stupid cultural stereotypes of women forcing men concede every fight or argument (c.f. every middlebrow male comedian ever on never winning an argument with their wives). Cal is consistently portrayed as the buffoon who lost his wife. The movie makes vague gestures at some past wherein Cal gave up trying to make their marriage magical, but we never see it. They just say it. This means we have to take the characters’ word for something we should be able to assess for ourselves, and really, that never works well. It feels sexist and kinda misandrist, and I don’t like it.
As far as stalking being the One Way to True Love, that’s a bit of a deeper problem. The movie’s stance is that you never stop fighting for your soul mate, and on its face that’s cute. But in practice, it follows the all-too-familiar course of men battering at women’s resistance until they say yes, or acquiesce in some other way. I’m hesitant to get too deep into this because the details of both arcs excuse the behavior to a great degree. In the arc of Cal and Emily, of course Cal fights for her. Emily makes clear that she misses him and would like to try to be together, plus they have 20-something years of marriage, plus he never really fights for her to begin with. When she says she wants a divorce, he’s so shattered that he goes without a word. And in the hilarious arc of Robbie and babysitter Jessica, it’s all sort of gimmicky. Robbie is 13, Jessica is 17. His proclamations of love and mock stagings of The Scarlet Letter can never actually get him anywhere. But in a weird way, I found that arc even more frustrating because Jessica does such a great job of setting her boundaries, and Robbie just keeps transgressing them. That she eventually finds humour in it is immaterial to what I see as the broader message: even when a woman is really really clear about her boundaries, and is explicit in her lack of desire for you, just keep transgressing them. You might not get the girl, but she may give you naked photos for your trouble. (Don’t ask.)
In total, though, I find the many attributes of Crazy, Stupid, Love. to outweigh its detriments by a pretty huge degree. You should see this. Marvel at Gosling’s torso, laugh so hard you double over, and try to quiet your social conscience. This movie is worth it.
**Yes, that is my old blog. Everything else on it has been set to private. If you for some reason are seeking a particular post, email me and we’ll talk. Otherwise it’s offline permanently.