There are a few of those generic scenes in Crazy, Stupid, Love. It's the story of a fractured couple, in part, and in one scene our wayward hero's 13-year old son pauses in the midst of a game of catch and imparts wisdom beyond his years to his middle aged father. On cue, father looks at son in disbelief and says, "Wow, how old are you again?" We've seen it a million times. Romantic comedies are overloaded with recycled moments like this; parents who don't believe their preteen kids can be in love, preteen kids who are persistent, divorce turning out for the better, out of practice divorcees being coached in the game by youthful gigolo types, reminders never to give up on love, and so on. Sometimes, these repetitive sequences are all a story is made up of. Fortunately, while Crazy, Stupid, Love. features the full Hollywood works, it doesn't give up on its story and characters just there. While it may not deserve the title of the most original rom com of the summer, it's certainly among the best in recent memory, perhaps because its heart isn't out of touch with its brain.
Steve Carell slips into Dan in Real Life mode to play Cal Weaver, a 44-year old man who's been married to his high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) for his entire adult life (and some of his teens). When Emily surprises him with a request for a divorce, he loses himself and begins to spend night after night at a trendy local bar, telling pieces of his sob story to bartenders, patrons, and the air, until one evening a smartly dressed pickup artist (Ryan Gosling) makes Cal an offer he can't refuse, and takes the sad sack under his Armani-clad wing. What follows are the usual misguided attempts at a cross between reconciliation and moving on. The difference, however, is that Crazy, Stupid has a knack for the deliciously screwball. Our story never takes the easy outs that feel like predictable end points in the moment. Like the best of its genre, this is a film that remembers it's a comedy above all, and does not simply exist to grant us the easy happy endings we may or may not desire as a collective audience. The characters, for the most part, are developed into people we have to get to know. We do not automatically like or trust Emily, for example, and while Gosling's character Jacob is a constant source of comic relief, the film doesn't bet on our assumption that he may have a heart of gold. These are characters with in tact personalities, and that means the flaws and warts have been included, but are never the primary focus. Even Cal isn't let off the hook simply because we see the pain over his cuckolding victimization in the opening scene.
Ultimately, what Crazy, Stupid, Love. is is an honest, open, feel good film no one has to feel guilty about enjoying. Gosling sparkles as Jacob, the most charismatic and adorable semi-douche around, and when he's on screen he brings out the best in the other A-listers. Emma Stone is even more charmingly likable than usual when she banters with Jacob, and his sharp-suited shopping training montage scenes with Cal is a refreshing take on the makeover sequence if only because it's laugh out loud funny on more than one occasion. Even as the story loses focus here and there, it never strays far enough to feel unbalanced. Instead, it's a remarkably pleasant surprise. When a comedy can manage romance without exceptional sap, honesty without dipping into uncomfortably heavy drama, and a story that manages to actually surprise, on occasion, instead of merely settle for cutesy tropes, that makes it a must see