"Love Sucks (A Cautionary Tale)"
"It Takes a Village (To Make a Divorce)"
The sad thing about romantic-comedies, circa the 21st Century, is their dependence on formula: Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Complications Ensue/Boy Wises Up/Happy Ending; or Girl Meets Boy/Girl Loses Boy/Girl's Self-Worth Depends on Boy/Romantic Rival Meets Terrible Demise/Happy Ending (of a sorts). The last few I've seen of the genre have depended on hitting these plot-points, no matter what city, what occupation, or what sex the film centers around. Even Bridesmaids, for all its wit and wildness, still ended with the assumption that everything will be alright if "the girl" gets "a man." The "by-the numbers" dance steps that most rom-coms boogie to have the ability to regress me back to the five-year old boy I was who hated "kissing scenes;" the final rosy fade-out inevitably spoils the most romantic of comedies for me, failing to warm the cockles of my heart or make me feel all-gooey-fuzzy. Instead, I walk away cheerlessly cynical. Been there. Done that. A fish needs a bicycle.
So, it's a nice surprise, bordering on the revolutionary, when a romantic-comedy turns the formula on its ear enough that I enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, Crazy, Stupid, Love* has a "happy ending," but there is also a nice glowing lack of resolution. This is a movie that dares to say that Love is hard work, and, yeah, it sucks, but it could be worth it, because, like Life, it beats the alternative.
This is not where it starts, but where it starts to get interesting: Chick-magnet Jacob (Ryan Gosling,** he has a nicely subtle double-take for comedy) is in a bar in mid-closer with his latest fling when he takes the time to call over a half-stewed Cal Weaver (Steve Carell, showing exactly why he deserves to be out of TV and in films, something that doesn't happen nearly enough). The reason? Cal's moaning is throwing off Jacob's technique. Cal's been doing that a lot lately (at the office he's told: "Amy heard you crying in the bathroom - we all thought it was cancer.") No, it's not cancer. After 25 years of marriage, Cal's wife (Julianne Moore—she's great) has revealed she wants a divorce AND she's slept with another man (Kevin Bacon, he's also great). This offends Jacob's self-absorbed sensibilities: "Seriously, I don't know whether to help you or euthanize you."
So, Jacob helps Cal to "man up"—a younger "Obi-Wan" to the elder's bowl-cut Luke with credit cards as lightsabers—and this, if not turning Cal's life around, at least makes it busier. And complicated.
Running parallel to the story is Hannah's (Emma Stone, big-eyed waif) relationship problems ("You're life is so PG-13!" says her token-Asian friend, Liz). That's because she wants to be engaged to office co-worker Richard (Josh Groban—rather risky of him to look so bad in this movie) and is focused on that, so much so that she plays ignorant to Jacob's innuendos when he approaches her while trolling in a bar.
And, at this point, to say anything more would be saying too much, spoiling the fun and sending the whole Jenga-construction of the film crashing to the rec-room floor (In fact, I've probably said too much already). Just when you think everything is going as smooth as satin sheets, the film-makers throw you an extra wrinkle, and it's been a long, long while since a rom-com has done that. The dialogue is fresh though the situations seem familiar—everyone's conceptions of Love and Romance seem to be based on The Movies and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa *** and writer Dan Fogelman **** are only too happy to skewer them, while paying some respect—the complications teetering on the sit-comish, then resolving with the most graceless of dismounts. Applaud anyway because if they're not the best of executions (the performances help here), there are extra points for "artistic" and "difficulty."
Adding to the fray are the effects all this confusion have on "the kids" (Jonah Bobo, Joey King) and the friends (John Carroll Lynch—he's becoming one of my favorite character actors—and Analeigh Tipton). It, after all, takes a village to make a divorce...very uncomfortable. And special mention should be made to the movies' best utility player, Marisa Tomei, who surprises with just about every performance these days (Okay, okay, Marisa, you DESERVED that Oscar, okay?).
Highly enjoyable. Bravo.
* Yes, it has the superfluous comma, you English Majors, but if you see the title as a list rather than "adverb, adjective, subject," it makes a bit of sense, and the film actually earns the charity for considering the possibility.
** Gosling is an odd bird. It's taken awhile for me to warm to him (I'm one of the few people to have seen his awful work in Fracture, but he has a nice laid-back dead-pan style of comedy—as displayed in Lars and the Real Girl—that hews closely to his dramatic work. Just a nudge, either way determines comedy or tragedy. He's dangerously good.
*** Okay, this is scary, but hear me out: Ficarra and Requa have written such films as the remake of Bad News Bears, Cats & Dogs, Bad Santa (a bit raw, but actually rather sweet) and...wrote and directed the little seen gay romance, I Love You Phillip Morris—as subversive and weirdly sweet a movie to be seen in a long time. Forgive the early credits—these guys are good.
**** Okay, now REALLY hear me out: Fogelman wrote the screenplay for Cars and the screen-story for Cars 2, wrote Fred Claus...but did fine work on both Bolt and Tangled for Disney. Seems he can write for real people, too, and not just 'toons.