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Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

'Crazy, Stupid, Love'

Craziness, stupidity and love (how to survive all three)

Crazy, Stupid, Love" — how could you not love a movie with a title like that? Well, if you're the film's distributor, maybe: Warner tamely re-titled it "Love Again" for the local market (just as "Friends With Benefits" was neutered into "Stay Friends"). Clearly they want it to seem more like a love-conquers-all feel-good comedy like "Love Actually."

Crazy, Stupid, Love (Japan title: Love Again) Rating: (4 out of 5)
★ ★ ★ ★
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Japan title: Love Again)
Old, free and single: Divorcee Cal (Steve Carell, left) finds himself back on the dating scene — with a little help from ladykiller Jacob (an on-fire Ryan Gosling) — in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." © 2011 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Running time: 118 minutes
Language: English
Now Showing
[See Japan Times movie listing]

"Crazy, Stupid, Love," though, is less about the happily ever after than the hopeless, infuriating, bang-your-head-against-the-wall amour fou (and the French would have a word for it, wouldn't they?). It's about how what makes sense and what your heart requires you to do can be two different things, and the agonies that ensue. It's also a wickedly funny film that takes a handful of misunderstandings and builds them to a hilarious climax worthy of the best screwball comedies.

The premise starts with a divorce — average family guy Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) suddenly gets the boot from his wife of 20 years, Emily (played by a typecast Julianne Moore), who's having an affair with her coworker (Kevin Bacon, enjoying a late-career surge in playing slime-balls). Cal wallows in self-pity, oblivious to the fact that the high school teen babysitter he employs (Analeigh Tipton) has a raging crush on him, or that his young son (Jonah Bobo) is similarly infatuated with his sitter.

Where things get really interesting, though, is when Ryan Gosling — in what is perhaps a career best — enters the scene as super-suave, super-insincere ladykiller Jacob. At this point, "Crazy, Stupid, Love" essentially becomes a makeover movie for guys. You know, the sort of chick-flick where some ugly-ducking girl with the fashion sense of a Minnesota librarian gets some help from her cooler friends and ditches the glasses, smears on some lipstick, slips into a dress with some decolletage and suddenly the boys' heads are turning.

Here we get the male metrosexual version: Carell's bad-drunk divorcee lurks in a chic bar airing his troubles for one and all to hear. The first time he views lounge lizard Jacob working his charms on a pair of lovely ladies, he derisively mutters, "Gay." One week later, Jacob — who takes pity on the guy — is schooling him in the essentials, such as wearing clothes that actually fit, sporting a blinging watch and ditching the drinks with straws and unhip white sneakers. ("Are you Steve Jobs? Are you the billionaire owner of Apple Computers? No? In that case, you've got no right to wear New Balance sneakers, ever.")

Jacob takes charge and vows to help Cal rediscover his manhood. "The battle of the sexes is over," he insists. "We won the second they took up pole-dancing as a sport." Under his tutelage, the middle-aged failure becomes something resembling a player, albeit one who should still keep his mouth shut.

The cast is excellent right down to the minor players, with the always welcome John Carroll Lynch playing the babysitter's protective father and Marisa Tomei as the one-night stand from hell. Tipton brings some depth to what could have been a stock "Lolita" role, Emma Stone turns up as the spiky girl Gosling's pickup artist just can't reel in, and it's really only Bobo who comes off as too earnest to be funny.

Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has mostly been responsible for bland scripts such as "Cars 2" and "Bolt" up till now, but the chance to get a bit wicked seems to have brought out his best stuff; codirectors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa bring his zing-zang-zow! dialogue to the screen with edge intact, and cement the rep they earned with "I Love You Phillip Morris" as makers of sharp comedy (and true believers in the principle that flawed characters are the only real ones).

The film kind of loses it in the last reel, with all the loose ends getting neatly wrapped up, sometimes a bit too tritely. While some affirmation of the love-conquers-all principle is to be expected, the movie should have had the courage of its convictions (and title) and allowed at least one character to wind up banging their head against the wall. Although, given the expectations of romantic comedy audiences, perhaps that would have been crazy and stupid.

(Heads up: Do not watch the trailer for this film, as it contains a serious spoiler that absolutely ruins a great plot twist.)

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