Tuesday, May 15, 2012

These Fools In Love

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE

As much as one may see how hard everyone in Crazy, Stupid, Love tries to play it cool (like the character of Jacob), one can see that the story fails them because it tries to do two things: have a whole host of stories in one film and attempting to tie them all together in remarkably far-fetched ways.  There's a good story in CSL.  It just doesn't know which one.

Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are in a bit of a rut.  Well, at first it looks like a rut, until Emily tells Cal she wants a divorce, and that she had an affair.  Devastated, Cal resorts to drowning his sorrows at a local bar, ruled by swinging single Jacob (avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling).  More irritated by Cal's constant whining than anything else, Jacob decides to take Cal under his wing and make him the man he should be (namely an older version of the cocky, self-assured Jacob).  With some new clothes and pick-up lines, Cal is ready to find the chick magnet buried within.  To his surprise, Cal is able to get the girls, starting with school teacher Kate (Marisa Tomei).

MEANWHILE, Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), age 13, has fallen passionately in love with he and his sister's babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton).  She is, in his mind, his soul mate, even if she doesn't return his affection.  Her eyes are set on an older man, one Cal Weaver.  Things are getting messy about here aren't, they?

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, while Jacob is playing the field, there is one girl who finds him resistible.  She is Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student who finds him more irritating than attractive.  She is in a sort-of relationship with Richard (assault-on-the-ears singer Josh Groban), who calls her "Hannah Banana" (other nicknames for our heroine will play a part in all this).

Now, here is where things start getting convoluted.  Emily and Cal married right out of or in high school (they've been married 25 years and she's 44, so that puts her wedding age at 19).  They both worry how their impending divorce will play with "Nanna".  Jessica, following some bad advice, poses for some nude pictures which she intends to give to the newly-single playa Cal.  Kate, meanwhile, is a teacher and Robbie went on a cursing rampage at his school.  Hannah had decided to give in to Jacob out of frustration with Richard, but we find that Jacob has a soul and is really lonely.  Jessica, following some terrible advice, poses for nude pictures to present to man-whore Cal.

Put two and seven together.

It goes like this:  Cal and Emily had to get married because she got knocked up by him in high school.  This gives them a child in the 20s...who couldn't pronounce her name of...HANNAH, thus, we get "Nanna".  What ARE the odds that Hannah is their daughter, and that she has started a romance with Jacob, who tutored Cal in the ways of picking up broads?  Even better, what are the odds that Jessica's father and mother come across nude photos of their daughter addressed to their friend Cal, or that Robbie find out that his 'soulmate' has been carrying a torch for his father?

ALL AT THE SAME TIME?

It was at this point that Crazy, Stupid, Love lost me, not in terms of plot, but in terms of believability.  One truly begins to wonder whether any of these people actually speak to each other.  I was amazed at how little they knew about what was going on in each other's lives.  How is it that Cal and Emily are completely unaware that their daughter (Nanna/Hannah) is seeing someone? 

I'm trying to imagine the conversation between either Nanna and her father or mother.  Granted, it's a short amount of time between when Jacob DOESN'T sleep with Nanna/Hannah, but in none of the conversations she doesn't say, "Oh, Dad/Mom, I'm seeing someone.  He's really hot.  Great abs.  His name?  You don't have to know that."

I also think that it is a cheat to have "Nanna" turn out to be Hannah.  Here's where I fault Dan Fogelman's screenplay.  We are never given any indication that "Nanna" and "Hannah" are the same person.  In fact, the script almost makes it to where the Cal/Jacob story and the Hannah/Jacob story are two different films mashed together.

Allow me a short digression.  A smarter and more clever script would have let us in on the fact that Hannah was Nanna and Nanna was Hannah and we are all together coo-coo-ca-choo.  A scene where she gets together with her parents would have done what great screenplays do: put US the audience ahead of the characters.  Thus, we would have been in anticipation of what we knew was bound to happen.  Instead, when we get this 'twist', it seems so forced and quick and easy. We were never introduced or even had the suggestion that "Nanna" (seriously, we would have thought this was an old lady they were talking about) was Hannah (not even a scene of them together).  I can't shake the notion that this was cheating on the part of Fogelman.

I also want to go into what I consider how illogical the whole thing is.  Emily tells Cal (and us) they've been married for twenty-five years and that she is 44.  This would make her 19 when they got married (or at least eighteen).  However, Cal tells us they had to get married while in high school because he was 17 when Hannah was born.  Leaving aside the fact that if Emily was 18 and Cal 17 this might have been statutory rape, she would have been of legal age at her wedding.  It would have been a shotgun wedding for him, not her.  Having someone marry at 18/19 isn't a scandal (and a minor one for a man at 17), so I wasn't buying this "Hannah is our daughter we never indicated we had but threw in for a good twist" bit.

Going on another point, it is puzzling how eager Hannah was to "bang" Jacob (and what woman, perhaps even lesbians, wouldn't want a crack at avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling) but the script keeps delaying and delaying any suggestion that they actually had sex to where I began to wonder whether Nanna was a virgin and remained so.  The evangelical Christians I know have put up less of a fight to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh than these two as they continue having a long discussion about all sorts of things, of cabbages and kings. 

I do give props to Fogelman to at least admitting that his story is cliched.  When Emily discovers that Cal had slept with Kate and that he'd had nine other women since (given he was separated and that Emily had been the first to schtupp someone else, why this is a bad thing will have to be explained to me), he is left alone in the parking lot, and it begins to rain.  "What a cliche," Cal says. 

We couldn't agree more.

Let me take some time to address how creepy a 'comedy' that has as one of its plot points having a 17-year-old pose for nude photos is.  Who was the technical advisor: Roman Polanski?  The fact that she at the end gives her pictures (or at least the audience is lead to think she did) to a 13-year-old is downright criminal (something about possessing child pornography).  I do wonder how a 'sweet' romantic comedy can be built on such things, but then I confess I'm old-fashioned. 

I don't think minors should pose nude.

In terms of performances, Carell is remarkably quiet as the weak and wimpy Cal.  Even when he is suppose to be furious (as when he discovers his daughter is going with the ultimate player), his voice and body is quite controlled to where it's almost emotionalless.  One gets he's supposed to be very wound-up, but Carell is oddly blank in all this.  Moreover, his Cal is almost a copy of Andy from The 40-Year-Virgin that Crazy, Stupid, Love might just as well have been a sequel.  At times, he is remarkably unlikeable (what is suppose to be witty comes across as passive-aggressive).

Avant-garde actor Gosling makes a rare turn in comedy with CSL (this and The Notebook being his only concessions so far for more commercial fare and not those dark roles that he so nakedly yearns for as an 'artist' and not a former "Mouseketeer").  Somehow, I wasn't buying that he was this cocky, self-assured player.  Rather, I got the sense that avant-garde actor Golsing was playing at playing a cocky, self-assured player.  In other words, he appeared to make a stab at comedy but not feeling all that comfortable with it, a bit aloof from it all. 

Moore remains one of my favorite actresses and she kept a balance between drama and comedy in CSL.  Tomei continues to be wildly underused as an actress in general, and her scenes were the only ones that had me laughing (and I will say that having her be Robbie's teacher is actually a good twist).  Stone is a good actress as well, but her Hannah did come across as a bit whiny (more her father's daughter than her mother's). 

Crazy, Stupid, Love really seems to be a host of stories tied together by the thinnest of threads.  It doesn't push the actors (in particular Carell and avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling) to try anything new.  Somehow, a story where Cal finds that he isn't a player (and for that matter, neither is Jacob) or one about Hannah the smart girl turning the tables on smooth but dim Jacob or even one about Mrs. Tafferty would have made fun stories.  Having them all collide (sometimes literally) never really worked.  There aren't a lot of laughs to be found in Crazy, Stupid, Love

Oddly, the film didn't live up to its title: I wasn't crazy over it, didn't think it was too stupid, and definitely didn't love it. 

DECISION: C-

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