When it comes to romantic comedies, experience has taught us not to expect much substance. Forget about realism too. We automatically brace ourselves for two hours of saccharine, implausibly manufactured scenarios slanted towards pleasing a primarily female demographic. But Crazy Stupid Love takes those expectations on board, presenting a refreshing tragicomic romp designed to appeal to men and women alike. The film is thoroughly amusing and lighthearted, keeping its content familiar and accessible while packing in thoughtful details to keep the audience engaged on a deeper level.
At first glance, Crazy Stupid Love looks pretty unremarkable. The character types and plotline are familiar and predictable. A middle-aged man (Steve Carell) finds out his wife (Julianne Moore) is having an affair, so he leaves her to reassess his life and rediscover his manhood with the help of a devastatingly suave uber-bachelor (Ryan Gosling). But their performances are surprisingly charismatic and appealing, aided by fresh comedic writing. The montage of Carell’s transformation from a Gap-wearing dad to an Armani-wearing player while being bullied by Gosling is laugh-out-loud funny. And Carell’s rant on being ‘cuckolded’ comes to mind as a cleverer comic scene of despair than I’ve seen in other rom-coms.
To add dramatic irony and situational humour, there are love triangles sustained throughout the film – sure, it’s forced narrative complexity, but it’s nowhere near as contrived as what happens in Richard Curtis’ hyper-arbitrary Love Actually. Furthermore, the supporting cast involved in those love triangles add pleasant colouring to the film. In particular, the couple’s 13-year-old son (strongly acted by Jonah Bobo) is refreshing as a lovelorn tween approaching manhood himself. His character’s uncynical convictions juxtaposed with his dad’s wearied compromises are key to revealing the ‘heart’ of the film.
To its credit, Crazy Stupid Love’s strong thematic focus is served well by its technical side – the tight editing of its intercut storylines keeps the film moving at a good pace, and the thoughtful composition delivers the necessary exposition in interesting ways. There’s one long tracking shot that functions as a magical time-lapse montage of Carell’s character schmoozing with a slew of attractive women; it’s a memorable moment in which the film shows off its technical merits while still serving the story. The editing and composition are complemented by a decent soundtrack featuring the likes of Thievery Corporation and Talking Heads, largely avoiding cliched pop songs.
Crazy Stupid Love isn’t without its faults, especially as it nears its conclusion. The situations are almost cartoony, not helped by a horrifically over-the-top cameo by Marisa Tomei. But the script includes meta-commentary that addresses the unrealistic parts, making them easier for the audience to swallow. When it rains during the dramatic low point for the protagonist, he says: “What a cliche.” Indeed, aren’t most rom-coms chock full of cliches?
Thinking about other films in this genre, it seems most fall into three categories: relatively high-concept (see 13 Going on 30), topically niche (see My Big Fat Greek Wedding) or star-packed pastiche (see Love Actually). The fact that Crazy Stupid Love doesn’t follow these formulas is something to appreciate. The film clearly has a sense of humour about itself, which helps us also have a sense of humour about it as well. All in all, a good pick for a Valentine’s night in.
Crazy Stupid Love is now available on DVD. Contributor Cathy Landicho can followed on Twitter @ConfusedAmateur.