By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
Love can be crazy and stupid, as the title of Crazy, Stupid, Love suggests. It can also be messy, disjointed and self-defeating contradictory, as the movie itself proves.
This isn't a romantic comedy, despite a cast of actors primed to do things passionately and funny. There are laughs that stick in your throat, when they aren't broad strokes shattering a forlorn mood that occasionally makes the movie feel like a companion piece to Magnolia, or any film depicting downbeat people realizing they have more sorrow in common than expected.
Crazy, Stupid, Love does contain several scenes that sparkle, yet they seem cut-and-pasted from another movie. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa — who made last year's wonderful I Love You, Phillip Morris and wrote Bad Santa — are working with much more conventional material here. New spins are attempted but never as subversive as (500) Days of Summer or recently Friends With Benefits. Unless you count a glut of subplots that even Garry Marshall wouldn't tackle.
The core story binding together these contrivances involves Cal and Emily (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore), whose marriage dissolves as the film begins. Emily has been unfaithful with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon), under the hoary alibi "midlife crisis." Cal is crushed. She's the only woman he ever knew sexually, a soul mate suddenly soured. This is the least interesting relationship in Crazy, Stupid, Love despite Carell's and Moore's solid performances.
Cal as a character works better with Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a sharp-dressed ladies' man offering to share his seduction techniques, to revive Cal's manhood. Apparently it requires deep pockets, with a metro-chic shopping spree and nightly trolling through a posh nightclub where women do little except wait to be picked up. Cal gets the hang of it, and a terrific time lapse tracking shot shows how busy he's getting.
Meanwhile, Cal's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who catches the boy in full fantasy mode. Embarrassed, he proclaims his love for Jessica; she's his soul mate despite a 4-year difference in age. Jessica's age issues go in the other direction; she has a crush on Cal.
Competing for screen time is Jacob's curious feelings for Hannah (Emma Stone), the only woman who hasn't fallen for his charms. She's a law student expecting to marry a dullard (Josh Groban), but that falls through. Ultimately Hannah can't resist Jacob's abs and "big move," a charming scene involving an iconic movie dance. It's one of only a handful of sequences in Crazy, Stupid, Love that truly feels romantically amusing.
Dan Fogelman's screenplay gets moments right but seldom a long stretch. That is, except for his wincingly convenient manner of tying everyone's issues together in not one but two sitcom-ready scenes of confessions and improbable acts. Crazy, Stupid, Love is a movie working backward from its title.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.