Crazy, Stupid, Love’s mission statement is spelled out for you in its title. It’s one of those movies that proudly wears its ridiculous heart on its sleeve; its ultimate mission is to make you believe that it’s completely acceptable for a 13 year-old and his father to hijack an 8th grade graduation to make ridiculous declarations of love to the objects of their affection. It wants you to believe that the two adjectives before love in that title are not insults, but the natural order of things when you’re really, truly in love.
The trick of the movie is that it wraps all this romantic-comedy ridiculousness inside two other types of movies.
The first movie is a heartfelt, realistic drama about the fact that we often fail to become the people we want to be and the ways that we take this out on the people we love. This movie is shown mostly in the surprisingly touching scenes between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore. Moore’s character, Emily, has been married to Carell’s Cal since she was 17, and is going through a lady midlife crisis. Cal has lost touch with who he is, and because of this has lost touch with his wife. The movie does a great job of touching on the ways that these two people manage to hurt each other without really blaming either of them.
The other movie that this crazy romance is wrapped in is a raunchy, dude-makeover comedy. I really liked this movie, too. First of all, the mere concept of doing a “dude makeover comedy” is gold. Normally it’s the woman in the movie who, after a major heartbreak, decides the best way to get over her broken heart is by firing up that old credit card and creating a new persona for herself. But in Crazy, Stupid, Love it’s the broken shell of a man, Cal, who turns to the suave lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling) for makeover advice. And the two together go through a series of amusing training montages, with Gosling doing a fantastic job of playing the heartbreaker with a wounded heart. Gosling and Carell have an easy, refreshing chemistry that makes the sequences between the two jump.
And then there’s the third movie, the one we started this whole thing off with. This is the movie that sees a 13 year old profess his love to stalkerish proportions to his 17 year old babysitter. It’s the movie that sees said babysitter become so obsessed with Cal that she decides to send him naked pictures. It’s the movie that thinks it’s romantic to stalk your ex-wife by doing her gardening in the middle of the night. In a lot of ways, this is the movie that I take issue with. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the convention in romantic comedies to excuse crazy person behavior with a blanket, “Well, they were in love!” And a lot of the antics gotten into in this section have that false, only-in-the-movies ring to them.
Luckily for everyone involved in this movie, this is also the part that most heavily focuses on Emma Stone. I can’t say enough how gifted I think this actress is, how much I think she elevates any material she’s given. Emma Stone stars as Hannah in this film, a girl whose backstory and overall characterization are only thinly sketched by the script but are so beautifully fleshed out by Stone that it helps to really crystallize her romance with Gosling. Because this is three movies wrapped in one, it would be incredibly easy for this romance to feel undercooked. In a way, it is. Jacob’s transformation from “love em and leave em Cassanova” to the type of guy that you take home to meet mom and dad really doesn’t get as much screen time as you would hope for (Especially if you, like myself, just want to see more Gosling). But because Stone is so damn winning and adorable, and Gosling himself such a damn fine actor, it helps to elevate the material past its own limitations.
In short, Crazy, Stupid, Love is ridiculous, underwritten and tonally a bit of a mess. Storylines disappear for a long time only to reappear just when you stopped caring about them. It vacillates between indie-style humor, gross-out raunch and melancholy so quick it could give a viewer whiplash. But the actors are across the board fantastic, and somehow the mixture of types of movies helps to make the final film a very good cocktail.