August 14, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love (08/14/2011)

Lettergrade: D+

I like Steve Carell and I'm happy to see him in movies that try harder for substance than Dinner For Schmucks or Date Night did, but I'm not sure that Crazy, Stupid Love is much better than those movies, really. The main thing that rubs me the wrong way in a comedic drama like this is when characters do things that I don't believe people in real life situations would ever, ever actually do.

In one of the movie's first scenes, Julianne Moore tells Carell that she slept with someone at work. His reaction is blank and he mugs at the camera ever so slightly. He then jumps out of a moving car and lays on the pavement until Moore comes back and picks him up. The co-worker she boinked is played by Kevin Bacon. Now if my wife told me that she had slept with Kevin Bacon, I would, unlike Carell, be devastated beyond rational functionality and then probably unspeakably pissed off. Not only because of the indignity of the cuckoldry, you understand, but also because I'd be only six people away from pretty much every working actor at that point.

Later, when they return home to dismiss the babysitter for the night, he goes on an explosive comic tirade in front of her and the kids about how hurt he is by this news, which is partly played for laughs (really?). He moves out, gets a crappy apartment, and hangs out in a local bar, telling his story as loudly as possible to whatever hot women happen to be near him (all of whom run in terror, as they would in reality as well).

Luckily, this bar is also frequented by Ryan Gosling, who plays a character with attributes similar to those of Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother as well as Vinnie Barbarino and The Fonz. Gosling pities the poor fool, and decides to show him the magical ways in which dressing like a complete douche-bag and treating women like disposable garbage somehow gives them the insatiable urge to sleep with you. And so, after a shopping montage at the Westfield Century City Mall (the only scene where the movie seems to take place in Los Angeles, by the way), Carell does exactly that.

Will Steve realize that the beaver-chasing lifestyle will leave him feeling empty and unfulfilled? And will Gosling (via his highly, highly improbable friendship with this sad-sack middle-aged accountant) come to the conclusion that the years he's spent perfecting date-rapishly aggressive pick-up lines and banging virtually everything that moves have been misspent? Well, yes, naturally... but movie has over 2 hours to fill so it's gotta kinda let the characters go on for a bit before that happens.

The time away from Carell and Gosling largely shows us an unrequited love-triange. The aforementioned babysitter is played by Analeigh Tipton, and she's in love with Carell, as it so happens. This is kinda creepy because the character is, like, 17 or something (although the actress is 22). Nevertheless, she kinda pulls quasi American Beauty style moves on him here and there, which is he largely unaware of, thankfully. The other plank of the unrequited love triangle is Carell's thirteen year old son, played by Jonah Bobo, who is desperately in love with Tipton's babysitter character himself. If I remember right, the movie even opens with a lengthy scene where he goes on an on about how in love he is with her while she forcibly repeats that she's not attracted to him in any way whatsoever and that his persistence is frankly kinda upsetting. As the movie goes on, he consistently takes the wrong lessons from history books, movies, and elsewhere in his life about how, if you really, really want something, you need to go after it as aggressively and as tirelessly as you possibly can. This manifests itself in even more uncomfortable declarations of love, and assorted pledges of undying devotion.

Okay... so I think that it's unnerving enough in this movie that this kid so passionately believes he has found his soulmate at 13 years old, but I'll agree with the babysitter's tacit assessment that the way in which he conducts himself toward her is just fucking scary. If you, or I, or anyone we know knew a boy who treated his much older babysitter with such crazy, stalker-like behavior at such a young age, and continued to do so after someone repeatedly explained to him how inappropriate and wrong it is, you would seriously LOCK THAT FUCKING KID UP IMMEDIATELY FOR FEAR THAT HE'D SAVAGELY MURDER THAT GIRL AND BUILD A CAGE WITH HER BONES OR SOMETHING. Seriously, I've seen movies about serial killers that aren't nearly as upsetting as what he does to her in this film. And the best advice anyone has for him in the movie is, "If you really love her, Robbie, you need to keep on trying, buddy." Uh huh... Even after she's stated repeatedly that she wants him to stop?

Anyway, every once in a while we come back to Julianne Moore's character too. She's missed Carell and kinda wants to work it out with him, it looks like, but she never actually starts a conversation with him until the end of the movie for some inexplicable reason. Bacon's character kinda lurks around as well, both looking for a second helping, we can assume, as well as for the approval of the kids, who instantly recognize him as a slimy bag of shit who broke up their parents' marriage.

The remainder of the flick is spent with Emma Stone who plays a lawyer with a dull love life who comes into the bar every so often, and whom Gosling hopes to add to the many notches on his bedpost. The movie has a trick up its sleeve in terms of how her story relates to the others, actually, but it is not revealed until way later, when the film has actually devolved into a bizarre Cannonball Run style fist fight involving all of the major characters. Since her "twist" is held off for so long, however, many of her early scenes feel really awkward and out of place in the movie... sort of leading me to imagine a scenario where they had already gotten her to agree to be in the movie, and then decided to really beef up her part after Easy A became a huge hit and she was clearly on the fast-track to being an A list actress. When the big reveal happened, I realized I was wrong and that those early choices were 100% deliberate, although I would argue that they are still very mishandled. Instead of her character feeling like an organic part of the movie early on, she feels like a big star who has a lot of superfluous scenes in a movie she's not actually starring in simply because she's a big star.

Ultimately, and I know this will be a line a big line of distinction for many in regard to whether or not to take my opinion here seriously, I disliked Crazy, Stupid, Love for many of the same reasons I disliked Little Miss Sunshine, which I found to be a mish-mash of garish caricatures of actual people who do things, say things, and think things that I do not believe that rational, high-functioning adults would actually do. In that movie, all the characters are enabling the little girl who is clearly placing waaaaaaaaay too much of her self-worth on the possibility of winnig a pre-teen beauty contest (the wrongness of which is never even acknowledged by the film) whilst on a road trip that rips off the plot to National Lampoon's Vacation virtually beat-by-beat (up to and including Aunt Edna / Alan Arkin dying mid-way through the trip, and being strapped to the roof while the family continues to drive to California!). Compare both of these movies, to a much better one also starring Carell: 2007's Dan In Real Life, a quiet comedy/drama in which he plays a widowed father of two who falls in love with a woman he meets at a bookstore and who surprisingly turns out to be his brother's new girlfriend. The premise is maaaaaaybe a little contrived in that one too, but the characters never really betray reality there, and the picture really works as a result.

My buddy Ilan busted my chops at lunch a few months back for choosing to see big studio movies that have a high probably of being shitty, seemingly with the express purpose of writing smart-assed blog posts about them when it turns out that they are. I tried to explain that I really do want every movie I take in to be satisfying at what it tries to do, regardless of whether it's big studio product or a no-budget indie flick. It's important to see a little bit of everything: I love a good popcorn movie when it is done well, and when it is good character drama, like Win-Win or Beginners, my two favorites of this year thus far, a picture can stick with me for weeks and weeks.

The key thing is that the emotion needs to work. Regardless of the budget or the resources or the talent involved, the characters need to go through something that seems to come from a real place or which at least contains recognizable human feelings and decision making. When a movie feels thin or far-fetched or emotionally "untrue," that's when I get cranky. And for some reason, an indie drama missing the mark sorta pisses me off a lot more than, say, Transformers 3 which, while fucking terrible, never pretends to be anything other than puerile crap.

I hold Crazy, Stupid Love in low esteem, despite its intentions, because I think it tries to look like an edgy indie drama that's about something, when in fact the characters do the same kinds of empty, unrealistic things that characters do in standard brain-dead studio junk, only with a cheap layer of indie veneer to try to make it all look deeper than it really is.