When a character in Crazy, Stupid, Love. sneakily copies pages from a book titled Divorce for Dummies, I began to think about a better film potentially written by Charlie Kaufman adapted from the Dummies text. As it is Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a cheaply funny, bland, forgettable comedy that offers little insight into divorce or the end of relationships.
Steve Carell plays boring father and husband Cal Weaver. When the film opens his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), tells him that she wants a divorce after 25 years of marriage. This demand devastates him, and as you can see in the trailer, Cal is so distraught that he leaps from a moving car. Soon, he moves out and buries his sorrows at a trendy local watering hole. After striking out with most every woman in the joint, ladies man Jacob (a ripped Ryan Gosling) takes Cal on as an apprentice. Schooling Cal in the fine art of getting women to sleep with him, Cal discovers great success after bedding down a goofy teacher, played by Marisa Tomei.
Meanwhile, Cal’s 13-year-old son is struggling with a crush on his 17-year-old babysitter who just might have a thing for Cal. And Emily seeks the help of that Dummies book while being wooed by a cheesy co-worker, played by Kevin Bacon. In yet another subplot, Emma Stone is about to take the bar exam in hopes of becoming a lawyer while pining away for a bland attorney (played by crooner Josh Groban) who seems all wrong for her.
These story threads will inevitably be pulled together in a contrived, campy conclusion reminiscent of almost every 1980s rom-com that ended with a preachy explanatory speech by the wayward protagonist. It’s all very pleasant, if overly familiar.
Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa work from a script by Dan Fogelman, who wrote the excellent screenplays for animated family films like Cars, Bolt and Tangled. His live-action efforts yielded 2007’s Fred Claus. And like Claus, Crazy is very much a cartoon. The characters are all parodies of what might have been their real-world counterparts and everything is weighed down with a consistent attempt to evoke giggles with one-line jokes. And it is funny, but the laughs are hollow and come at the expense of any meaningful emotional connection. It is okay that disintegration of the Weavers’ relationship is merely a reason for A-list talent to make us laugh. But if we cared the least bit about them, the laughs would be much bigger.
It is hard to believe that co-directors Ficarra and Requa last gave us I Love You Phillip Morris and wrote the screenplay for the terrific Bad Santa. There is no doubt that when permitted to be uninhibited by MPAA rating requirements and producing concerns, they can deliver hard-hitting material that comments insightfully on the troubled modern human condition. But here the whole affair is played way too broadly. And when the envelope is pushed a bit to the edge of the PG-13 rating, it feels a bit creepy. For example, a 17-year-old girl takes lewd pictures of herself and we are led to believe that she gives one of them to a 13-year-old boy as some sort of sweet peace offering. In the real world, someone would need heavy therapy, and the police might get involved. At the very least, the pictures would end up on Facebook and Nancy Grace would devote an hour to attacking the next “tot-mom.”
Still, some inventive casting helps save Crazy, Stupid, Love. from being completely worthless. Tomei is fine as a wacky teacher and one-night stand, but her best scenes are trotted out in the over-long trailer. Coming off best is Ryan Gosling, who certainly looks the part, and could have carried the entire film. His Jacob is like a slightly younger, and hunkier American take on Hugh Grant’s Will Freeman from the far better About a Boy. Exploring the emptiness of the singles scene and what happens with the lady-killer meets his match is a theme that never gets old. However, that story is buried under layers of wince-inducing moments that pulled me out of the story and made me wonder what I was having for dinner. A better film is lurking underneath, but the producers want to pull in a broader segment of viewership, which causes any edgy social commentary to be unforgivably watered down.