Ah the romantic comedy. One of those genres which was once great but is now populated by vapid, predictable and boring films starring the same people over and over (not naming any names, although I’m sure you know who they are!). That’s not to say there aren’t any good modern examples – (500) Days of Summer stands out as a knowing, clever exemplar that acknowledges the rules but doesn’t necessarily play by them. But for the most part it’s a genre that on a pretty consistent basis plays it safe and thus uninteresting.
Step in Crazy, Stupid, Love. It’s an example of a romantic comedy that is warm, sweet, and breezily enjoyable – all the things a good romantic comedy should be – but without being overly predictable and generic. No mean feat. There are certainly aspects of it that walk the conventional road the genre tends to go down but for the most part it knows what kind of film it is, has fun with what we’ve come to expect from that and manages to carve out some interesting, sometimes surprisingly dark ways of exploring love (or lack thereof) in relationships.
The film follows Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) whose wife (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce. His life begins to unravel thereafter as he tries to keep up his relationship with his kids while trying to move on from the one woman he’s only ever been with. One day he meets Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a womanizer who takes it upon himself to help Cal get on with and improve his life. Meanwhile Hannah (Emma Stone) is having relationship troubles of her own, not least of which is her non-committing boyfriend.
Any trepidation you might have about Crazy, Stupid, Love. being yet another boring romantic comedy is washed away the moment the witty and truthful dialogue starts. Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled, Bolt) has written a great script full of genuine heart, a clever and honest exploration of relationships. It’s a film we can all relate to in one way or another, whether you’re new to the dating world or have been married for 25 years. Importantly it rarely feels fake or forced.
You sometimes wonder why such amazing actors choose to do romantic comedies when the writing is as trite as it usually is. But you get the sense here that the fantastic, star-studded cast isn’t just there for the sake of drawing audiences. The film gives the actors are chance to put in some of their best work in recent years, true for the likes of Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei, and in the case of Steve Carell he’s never been better. He doesn’t just play the usual Carell guy – you might be happy to hear he never once does his trademark extended shout which he first perfected in Bruce Almighty – but proves he has real emotional acting talent as well as comedic.
Emma Stone (soon to be seen in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot) is great as the slightly zany Hannah who gets to do a lot of fun scenes, most of which are with the unfairly perfect Jacob. When Gosling (who can also be seen these days in one of the best films of the year, Drive) takes off his shirt to reveal what looks like a 12-pack, Stone replies, “Seriously?! It’s like you’re Photoshopped!” It’s this kind of knowing, wink-wink humour that allows the film to connect more than most others of its type.
About two thirds of the way through the film you might begin to wonder where certain plot strands are going, how they are truly going to matter in the end. But a legitimately surprising plot turn ties everything together perfectly without it feeling obvious. That’s a very hard thing to do but it somehow manages it with ease. It’s not without its problems – it’s guilty of some of the tropes of the genre a few times – but overall this is a refreshing joy, especially when you consider the state of the modern romantic comedy. More of this kind of thing, please Hollywood.