Review: "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

2011 was the year of Ryan Gosling’s return – with the success of Blue Valentine, and it’s disturbing, heartbreaking poignancy, carrying over from 2010 into the awards season, and the release of Crazy, Stupid, Love., Drive, and The Ides of March, three highly acclaimed films, he’s made quite the name for himself beyond “the Notebook guy”.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a strong argument for his abilities – but it’s not the only argument the film puts forth. It’s a wonderful romantic comedy with only a few notable flaws, a star-studded cast of incredible performances, one of the smartest scripts of the year, and a sprightly attitude that cements itself as one of the most fun films of 2011.

Okay, bad news first: for the first 20 minutes of the film, I thought it was going to be another try-hard romantic comedy with no sense of identity. And that scared me a little bit – I love Steve Carell, but jumping out of cars and ignoring his wife bashing Twilight in a strangely placed joke didn’t sit well with me at all. The plot seed with his son and the babysitter had promise, but I was skeptical of where it could go with what felt like a weak main plot.

Fortunately, Ryan Gosling entered the fray at just about that mark. Carell and Gosling have a great rapport, and their montage scenes are some of the most enjoyable of the film. Between Gosling’s slap happy method of  teaching Carell how to dress, and then “Miyagi-ing” him with the ways of womanizing, the next 30 minutes breeze by as Carell becomes more self-confident. Carell walks a fine line between being lovably pathetic and a jerk, with dramatic moments occurring when he wavers too far in one direction. Gosling, in contrast, appears to be a more tender person with a hardened jerk exterior until Emma Stone gets to him. These characters work very well, and play off each other remarkably well.

Where the film really exceeds, however, is in its almost certainly intentionally convoluted relationship diagram. To plot out the various connections each of the characters have to the other characters would be quite a task, and it makes the film feel much more tightly plotted than it probably is. This is a good thing, of course, and the scene where it all finally comes to a head is very amusing, yet at the same time you’re so invested in the story and characters that you can’t really laugh at any of them. As the film moves along you start to form ideal situations in your head, pairing characters up mentally. That the film appears to come to a conclusion an hour in only to plunge back in makes that process all the better, as it starts and ends early so the rest of the film is anticipation of the final resolution.

The only major flaw I see beyond the opening 20 minutes is the way that the film points out conventions of romantic comedies, only to fall into a slightly modified version of it. For instance, Emma Stone remarks that she knows the PG-13 version of the night ends with her drinking too much and passing out, but that she is R-rated sexy, which will thus end with sex. The film then has Ryan Gosling’s character drink himself into a stupor and pass out – a slight inversion, but still following the trend. The worst offense is that the ultimate idea of the film is that every one has a soul mate, and though it may not work out, you should always keep trying – and the film makes everything work out for all involved. It’s a tad hypocritical.

Fortunately, these faults aren’t enough to sink the incredibly sprightly and refreshing comedy. Gosling and Carell turn in memorable performances that will be benchmarks for future romantic comedies.

* * * 1/2

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