The stakes are so high for Hollywood movies of any kind, especially in the summer, that every film has to be an event, even one that’s driven largely by character and performance. And when the characters and performances are particularly well-conceived, it has the effect of exposing the dumb artificiality of the big setpieces all the more. For most of the way, Crazy, Stupid, Love coasts more than agreeably on the talents of four hugely charismatic actors and a tart, knowing script that tweaks the rom-com formula just enough to seem fresh. Yet the two crowd-pleasing payoffs—one that draws everyone together in calamitous farce, the other the sort of embarrassing/sappy speech that only happens in Hollywood—have a distancing effect. These characters deserve a follow-through as real and human as they are.
The many gears of Dan Fogelman’s script are set into motion when Julianne Moore, enduring another routine dinner date with her husband Steve Carell, announces that she wants a divorce after 25 years of marriage. And what’s more, she slept with an unctuous co-worker, played by Kevin Bacon. Reeling from the news, Carell shuffles off to a cruddy apartment and drowns his sorrows in watered-down vodka-cranberries at an upscale singles bar. Ryan Gosling stars as the bar’s resident lothario, a damnable charmer who takes pity on Carell and vows to be his “Mr. Miyagi” in the pick-up game. Of course, bedding a new woman every night is apparently no way to live, so Gosling gets a love interest of his own in Emma Stone, a bright young lawyer-to-be who sees through his routine, but has trouble resisting it.
Crazy, Stupid, Love adds on some other complications, too, including a vaguely creepy subplot about an underage babysitter’s infatuation with Carell, all united in themes of misunderstanding and pursuing one’s true soulmate. Though it echoes The 40-Year-Old Virgin too closely—here Carell isn’t a virgin, but he’s only slept with one person—the interplay between Carell and Gosling generates most of the comedy, as the young stud turns his pupil into a metrosexual, one layer at a time. Gosling and Stone, too, have wonderful chemistry; their all-night “seduction” sequence is the film’s highlight, witty and effortlessly sexy. It’s a shame this kind of unforced intimacy and wit doesn’t always carry over, but it’s enough.