The romantic comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ suffers from crazy, stupid psychology

July 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 14, 2015

There’s a short scene about two-thirds of the way through the 2011 movie Crazy, Stupid, Love that captures its willful cluelessness about how the world works.

When a quartet of adult men brawl behind the house that Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) and Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) used to share with a son and daughter, the police are called. But the officers don’t seem very concerned that two neighbors (one of them Cal, the other the father of a teenage girl standing in the back yard), Emily Weaver’s lover plus a fourth man have been involved in a melee. Instead, the cops blithely head elsewhere, pausing only to admonish the parties involved that in the future they should keep their fighting indoors, where it won’t attract as much unwanted attention.

It’s a remarkably cavalier response to the fight, which was sparked partly by Bernie Riley’s not-so-comic misunderstanding that Cal was having an affair with, or at least receiving racy pictures from, Bernie’s 17-year-old daughter and partly because of the very real infidelity that caused Cal and Emily to separate.

Of course, in the real world, cops respond badly to domestic disturbances all the time. But it begs credulity that the officers would walk away from this melee with a casual wink, failing to insure that even a single one of the brawlers departs the property before they do.

Unfortunately, “begs credulity” is the modus operandi of Crazy, Stupid, Love. After Emily announces that she wants a divorce, Cal falls into the orbit of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a playboy who makes it his mission to remake the heartbroken family man after his own image.

Jacob succeeds only too well: Cal, who had only slept with one woman in his life, takes nine different lovers to bed over the course of a few months. But throughout it all, he only longs for his one true love, his soulmate — Emily, his wife.

Throughout the year or so depicted in the movie, the other members of the Weaver household deal with the parents’ separation in their own ways. Emily copes by vacillating between wanting to spend time with David (Kevin Bacon), the coworker with whom she cheated, and wanting to reunite with Cal. Robbie (Jonah Bobo) copes by pursuing the girl he loves — who, inconveniently, happens to be Jessica Riley (Analeigh Tipton), the Weavers’ 17-year-old babysitter who, even more inconveniently, happens to have a crush on Cal. The youngest child, Molly (Joey King), copes by…well, to be honest, Molly’s just around to provide a cute face.

There’s another plot thread that is introduced at the beginning and then mostly dropped. Before becoming Cal’s mentor, Jacob spotted Hannah (Emma Stone) at his favorite hangout and instantly became enamored of her. Hannah is a recent law school graduate who eagerly anticipates a proposal from her boyfriend, Richard (Josh Groban), even though Hannah’s friend Liz (Liza Lapira, in a thankless sassy-minority-friend sidekick role) dismisses him as a boring sap.

Will Cal and Emily get back together? (Spoiler: Yes.) Will Jacob and Emily get together? (Spoiler: Yes.) Do either of these unions have a chance to last? (No spoilers in this case.) Oh, and what about Robbie’s seemingly hopeless quest to win Jessica’s affection?

So let’s talk about Robbie and Jessica. This relationship is cringe-inducing right from the get-go. We first encounter the character when Jessica walks into his room while he’s…stimulating himself. (Crazy, Stupid, Love has a PG-13 rating, so nothing graphic is shown or even discussed.) Moments later, the 13-year-old old walks downstairs and casually tells his obviously embarrassed baby-sitter, “The thing is, I have a picture of you. I think about you while I’m doing it.” Shortly afterward, Robbie confesses his love to the soon-to-be high-school graduate. (Jessica is Stanford-bound, we learn.)

Somehow, things go downhill from here. Jessica clearly tells Robbie that she’s not interested in him. Jessica repeatedly tells Robbie that she’s not interested in him. Jessica tells Robbie that she’s interested in an older man. (Wisely, she doesn’t disclose that the older man in question is his father.)

So not only is Robbie pursuing an age-inappropriate relationship, he does so in ways that are clearly unwanted and embarrassing to Jessica. Unfortunately, the movie’s writer, Dan Fogelman, and co-directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, choose to characterize this behavior as charming rather than problematic.

Crazy, Stupid, Love isn’t a bad movie because of this serious miscalculation — at least, not exactly. Instead, it fails because its makers seem to have no conception of human psychology. The characters seem to have more depth than cardboard cutouts, but only just barely. (I would argue that the fine cast does far more to make the dramatis personae come to life than the script.) Nearly everything about the film, including the various character arcs, is completely predictable.

Crazy, Stupid, Love has exactly two clever moves. One of them I half-suspected; many observant viewers will likely see it coming. The other I didn’t anticipate, although I almost made the connection that the filmmakers carefully worked to conceal. (Again, some observant audience members will figure out this twist.)

The second twist immediately precedes the backyard brawl. It makes for an electrifying scene, one that left me prepared to re-evaluate all of my skepticism about Crazy, Stupid, Love. But then the feature asked me to chuckle at the police just shrugging off the fight, and my willingness to reconsider was thoroughly quashed.

The rest of the movie goes mostly by the numbers, including the climactic fifth act, which takes place (eye roll) in a school gymnasium. I raised my eyebrows twice — once because a previously bland character got slightly salty, which was mildly pleasant, and once because the resolution to one of the storylines managed to be more excruciating than I’d imagined.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is like a one-night stand: It elicits a smile and a chuckle here and there, but the next morning, none of the magic remains.

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