Steve Carell befriends a man whore (Ryan Gosling) who helps him deal with getting dumped.
For those of us who go crazy for inscrutable actorly tics, there is no more compelling young performer right now than Ryan Gosling. Doesn’t matter if he’s giving barn-burning retro-Method turns in indies like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, or half-kidding his way through a B-Movie programmer like Fracture, Gosling always takes the path of most resistance into every scene. He reacts to simple scenarios with magnetic, corkscrew affectations. Carrying the torch from old-school Sean Penn and Nic Cage, Gosling seemingly can’t help but try and subvert your expectations during even the most banal interactions, making his performances feel electric even when they’re all wrong. (Let’s just agree to never mention Lars And The Real Girl ever again.)
But unlike his predecessors Penn and Cage, Gosling looks like a fucking movie star. This is the great joke of Crazy, Stupid, Love, a slickly polished, perhaps too carefully-structured romantic comedy that benefits immeasurably from his particular brand of anarchy. At last embracing his matinee idol handsomeness and a physique that prompts co-star Emma Stone to ask if he’s been Photoshopped, Gosling assays the role of an idly wealthy, bar-cruising lothario drowning in pussy with off-kilter rhythms and an incongruous sweetness.
To back up a bit, the film stars Steve Carell (who also produced) as a sad-sack middle-aged husband, unceremoniously dropped by his childhood sweetheart bride (Julianne Moore) after she’s had an ill-advised dalliance with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon, magnificently smarmy as ever) at the office Christmas party.
Adrift and alone for the first time in his life, Carell takes up residence on a barstool at a demographically unfriendly singles haunt. Idly sipping girly drinks through a straw in his ill-fitting suits and scuffed New Balance sneakers, he’s the kind of pathetic spectacle that Carell excels at playing. Still, there’s kindness in his eyes, and a beseeching quality with which he cannot stop talking about being cuckolded—wondering aloud why that particular word has fallen so far out of fashion.
The self-pity is enough to interrupt bar-regular Gosling’s infinite procession of one-night-stands, and what follows is at first a dizzying sort of Pygmallion For Hounds. A makeover montage that tops Pretty Woman kicks off Gosling’s self-described “Mr. Myaigi” manner of teaching his hapless student how to navigate the singles bar scene.
Racking up notches on the bedpost, this should rightfully play like sub-Tucker Max misogynist swill—a middle-aged wish fulfillment fantasy at best. Yet Carell’s inherent nobility keeps the sleaze at bay, with Gosling finding the oddest notes of childlike amusement in the midst of some rather stunningly loathsome behavior.
Since Crazy, Stupid, Love is a mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy, eventually we’re going to work our way around to Carell trying to win back ex-wife Julianne Moore, and Gosling will eventually meet a girl he actually wants to speak to in the morning. Credit the picture (nimbly directed by Bad Santa screenwriters Glenn Ficcara and John Requa) for finding interesting avenues to foregone conclusions.
Gosling falls under the spell of Emma Stone’s high-strung “PG-13” law student, and for once his tired old games don’t work (even when he brings out the big guns and offers to act out the climax of Dirty Dancing.) Stone’s frazzled banter is a keen match for his smirky, half-beat delayed reactions; they’re wicked cute together.
Moore is afforded a good deal more dignity than you might expect from a role like this, and to the picture’s credit, she always seems more confused than vindictive. Factor in Carell’s knack for always saying the wrongest possible thing at the worst possible time, and the road to reconciliation does not run smooth.
A somewhat annoying subplot revolving around their wise-beyond-his-years teenage son (Jonah Bobo) crushing on his babysitter occupies too much real estate, but it’s worth it just for a genuinely unhinged second-act climax that puts every credited character at the same party, working at cross-purposes under various misunderstandings until it attains the hollering, screwball delirium of a David O. Russell film.
Sadly, Crazy, Stupid, Love can’t sustain that level of manic invention and eventually settles into something far more conventional, but pleasant all the same. Luckily by then we’ve become invested enough in these characters to cheer for the inevitable procession of feel-good endings.
And there’s Gosling’s indelible creation, insurgent enough to interrupt the typical cliched “everybody is sad” indie-rock montage by sincerely studying the word-puzzle on the back of a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. This is a great performance.
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore
Remembering Roger Ebert