I find it a little weird that I’ve spent a lot of this past year decrying the state of the modern romantic comedy, only for two prime examples to show up right at the very end. Yesterday we had Kristen Wiig and her fellow Bridesmaids, and today it’s Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling out on the prowl. Who’da thunk it, huh?
You think Emma Stone’s single?
While out for dinner on their anniversary, Emily Weaver tells her husband Cal that she had an affair and wants a divorce. Cal suddenly finds himself living alone at age 44. After spotting Cal in the same bar night after night, serial womaniser Jacob decides to take the older man under his wing, but while Cal lives out his new youth, Jacob starts to think it might be time for him to grow up.
So this is how you make a romantic comedy: take a story about people in love and make it funny. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But if it’s so damn easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Maybe it’s like golf; it just looks easy when you’re doing it right. The directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (scripters of Billy Bob’s two Bads – Santa and News Bears) follow up their little-seen but mostly adored helming debut I Love You Philip Morris by showing a maturity in their storytelling that they had hinted at with their earlier films but not yet fully embraced. Here they juggle four almost completely separate plotlines with aplomb, giving each the space it needs to develop until they all come together in the last fifteen minutes of the flick. Much like in yesterday’s Bridesmaids, the main strength in Dan Fogelman’s screenplay is in creating a bunch of characters that are real and intelligent and behave in a believable way. One touch I really appreciated was that the characters seemed to be aware of the genre conventions they were living through. It annoys me when people in a horror movie seem to have never seen a horror movie before, and the same holds true for almost every other type of film. It’s not done with any sort of heavy hand – just casually dropped in to a couple of scenes – but it adds some texture that so many other flicks don’t even try to achieve.
It almost seems unfair to single out any particular actors in an ensemble piece like this, but I just have to mention Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This is the third Gosling flick I’ve seen this year after Drive and The Ides of March, and as good as he was in those two, Jacob is easily his most likable role yet. Normally this would be the guy in the movie that you are supposed to hate, but Baby Goose is just so damn charming that he wins everyone over. While he may behave like a self-obsessed jerk in the way he’s out picking up a new woman every night, he is ultimately a decent person. Just look at the way he goes out of his way to befriend and help Cal. And Emma Stone, well. You’ve heard it all before. She’s got the looks, the timing and the chops to carry off the more dramatic moments, and she does all of it so effortlessly. Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are as good as you would expect, but it’s Jonah Bobo (last seen as young Danny in Zathura) as Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son in love with his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (played by former model Analeigh Tipton) who threatens to steal the whole movie out from under his more renowned costars. This kid’s entirely fearless and shameless depiction of first love is as inspiring and endearing as it is borderline creepy and more than a little stalkery.
It’s not a perfect film though. It falls into the patented rom-com contrived coincidence trap maybe once too often, and the parallel plot structure means that you might feel your favourite couple getting a bit shortchanged, but it is still a damn fine example of what the genre can be capable of. Crazy, Stupid, Love is the perfect title for this film. It is a celebration of love both old and new, young and old, as well as all the shit that comes with it.