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Crazy Little Thing

How far do men go for love in this confused comedy? Too far.

Aug 8, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 44 • By BY JOHN PODHORETZ
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Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling Movie Still

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

There’s a lot to enjoy in the new movie Crazy, Stupid, Love, and you should see it because it’s got funny scenes and good lines and some terrific performances and a surprising third-act plot twist I didn’t see coming—and I almost always see plot twists coming. It begins with a couple at a restaurant; the body language suggests both long intimacy and great distance. He says he wants coffee. She says she wants a divorce. He is Steve Carell, who may be the most likable movie star alive. She is Julianne Moore, who is incapable of striking a false note as an actress. When she tells him of her affair, he leaps out of the car; injured, he climbs back in, and they end up back at their house, their life blasted apart—but still, someone has to drive the teenage babysitter home.

We have here the beginnings of a classic, but Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn’t end up a classic because it fails a crucial storytelling test. It can’t decide whether it’s a comedy, which is to say, a movie about real people living in the real world who misbehave and get in trouble because of their misbehavior, or whether it’s a farce, in which the characters are fundamentally flat and are moved around a complex plot like pieces on a gameboard. So it tries to split the difference, and in doing so, it never finds a consistent tone or a consistent spirit.

Some of Crazy, Stupid, Love takes place in the properly well-heeled upper echelons of Los Angeles—but in an effort to make Steve Carell’s character more “relatable,” we see him working as a middle-management grunt who couldn’t possibly afford the multimillion-dollar house he shares with his wife. He also doesn’t seem to work very much during the day, a trait that makes sense if you are a screenwriter or a movie director but not if you’re not in the entertainment industry, which Carell’s character isn’t.

The primary setting of the movie is a “singles bar” that seems to have been teleported through time from the 1970s in every way save the lighting scheme. The bar comes complete with a house Lothario who ought to be a laughingstock but is, instead, like catnip to the gorgeous twentysomethings populating the bar the way drunks populate the Blarney Stone. And rather than this Lothario being a sleazy loser living in his mother’s basement, as would likely be the case, he’s an enormously rich fellow with his own Neutra house in the Hills.

Fortunately for us and for the movie, the Lothario is played by Ryan Gosling. This 30-year-old actor is capable of going very, very wrong with a part, as he did playing a man in love with a blow-up doll in Lars and the Real Girl. He is also capable of finding shades and depths and beauty in the most unlikely places, as he did in his breakout role as the romantic poor boy in The Notebook.

What he pulls off with his impossible character here is nothing short of a miracle—he achieves a kind of amused distance from his own behavior in the course of his appalling conduct that makes him as irresistible as the movie needs him to be for its plot to work. This is the kind of performance that could turn Gosling from an actor’s actor into the Robert Redford of the third millennium—the guy men want to be and women want to be with.

Gosling takes Carell under his wing and teaches him how to be a player, even as Carell pines for Julianne Moore. Meanwhile, Carell’s son is in love with his babysitter, who is in love with Carell. And the one woman at the bar who won’t give Gosling the time of day reenters the picture, which brings unexpected changes to Gosling’s life. The convergence of all these strains brings us to the movie’s elaborate and beautifully staged climax—which is, unfortunately, followed by a supposedly heartwarming scene that is one of the falsest and most embarrassing displays I can remember.

The contrast between the climax and the denouement is exactly what’s wrong with the movie. The screenplay by Dan Fogelman and the direction by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa mix and match believable human conduct and unimaginably stupid behavior, sometimes in the same scene. Crazy, Stupid, Love takes characters who seem very much like real people and makes them do absurd and embarrassing things real people never would do, and only because the farce demands it of them.

So it’s not bad, but it’s not better, and that’s too bad, because it could have been.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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