A solid, enjoyable collection of intertwining stories momentarily offset by a couple of incredibly silly scenes, Crazy, Stupid, Love has its sights set on being an out-of-the-ordinary romantic comedy, but ultimately settles for just being a pretty good run-of-the-mill one.
Writer Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled and, embarrassingly, Fred Claus) brings a lot of scenarios to life that seem, on the surface, to be pretty realistic. Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) have been married for a quarter-century. The fire's gone. Emily springs her request for a divorce and Cal crumbles, at one point rolling out of a moving car just to avoid hearing her talk about it.
Their 13-year-old son is in love with his 17-year-old babysitter, or as much as a 13-year-old could be. The babysitter, in turn, is in love with a much older man.
Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is a professional ladies' man. He doesn't have to work for a living, so he just shows up in bars and almost without fail takes a new conquest home every night. After overhearing Cal lament his separation—blurted out over and over and to no one in particular—Jacob takes the older man aside, gives him a style makeover, and teaches him the slippery art of talking to women. But there is one woman even Jacob can't successfully sweet-talk: Budding attorney Hannah (Emma Stone) simply laughs off his advances, making him want her all the more.
Cal would love nothing more than to reunite his family, and even though he's on the prowl he still makes an effort to connect with his estranged wife whenever he can. Love, you see, can be both crazy and stupid that way. His plan doesn't go so well when Cal and Emily run into a woman he had recently slept with.
The appeal of Crazy, Stupid, Love lies in the relatability of each of these characters, carefully constructed and assembled to play off each others' strengths and weaknesses, and a familiarity with Carell, Moore, and Gosling, all of whom revisit things they do so well. Carell is great at wearing a hangdog face; Moore, even when going for some laughs, plays the troubled wife well; and chicks dig Ryan Gosling. Bonus points if he's shirtless (which he is).
As she proved last year with the surprise hit Easy A, Emma Stone is a star on the verge. It isn't for the same reason Megan Fox became famous, though. Stone is in this position so early into her career because she's a legitimate comedienne, one of the very few worth mentioning under the age of 30. Her sarcasm is integral to the success of her storyline, and it could be argued that even though she's a supporting character in Crazy, Stupid, Love, she gives the film its most life, particularly in a payoff scene with Gosling.
Fogelman and Bad Santa directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa look to make this film stand out from the pack of fatuous romantic comedies by not relying solely on the more traditional 20-somethings storyline. By grouping Stone and Gosling with Carell and Moore and the teen angst storyline, Crazy, Stupid, Love takes a broader approach to the same subjects that vex lovers from 13 to 93. Thankfully, it's not as broad as the far less interesting Valentine's Day or He's Just Not That Into You.
However, when this film makes an effort to get an enormous laugh—which it does only a couple of times—it loosens its grip on presenting believable characters and becomes more of a farce. It's unnecessary. But it's a rather small complaint considering how engaging the rest of the film is.