Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa. 2011.

I waited for something to go wrong with Crazy, Stupid, Love. I waited for a parade of quirky people instead of characters I could relate to. I waited for gratuitous sex and profanity. I waited for the movie to settle into a comfortable genre and adopts its cliches and tropes. I waited for a tidy ending to wrap things up. None of these cropped up to plague Crazy, Stupid, Love. I like this movie. I like this movie? I like this movie? From its first to its last shot, I do.

Most admirably, this movie is not lazy. It works and it works hard to avoid the trappings of romantic comedies, to maintain a tone between drama and comedy, and to maintain reasonable situations. It begins as a serious drama with an opening simple, short, and sexy. At dinner Emily tells Cal she wants a divorce. After a tense car ride we think we have the genre pegged: divorce drama. It's Kramer vs. Kramer.  Yet the film is not a serious drama, not wholly anyway. Cal and his wife get divorced and the kids visit him, still chatty and perky. Maybe this'll be a wacky comedy where the dad becomes so wonderful and zany that everyone loves him. It'll be Mrs. Doubtfire. Then Cal meets Jacob, a slick and smooth-talking ladies' man who offers to tutor Cal. He picks out sharp clothes for Cal and teaches him how to approach women. Ahh, it's Hitch. Then the new life blows up in his face one night at the most awkward parent-teacher meeting I've ever seen. So it's Alfie. Right? Well, we'll see.

All the while Cal's journey is intercut amongst subplots which include his son's crush on the babysitter, the babysitter's crush on Cal, a coworker's crush on Cal's wife Emily, and Hannah's limbo, Hannah who managed to resist Jacob's charms because she thinks her lawyer-boss-boyfriend is going to propose. Oh, it's Love Actually. Right? Well, it never gets mired in one of them and it does not try to be all of them, but rather Crazy, Stupid, Love uses these other genres as it passes through them, building to something bigger as it tries to find some place new and significant for its characters, and us.

Driven toward the risky, the foolhardy, the crazy and stupid if you will, everyone really does seem to be at the mercy of love. The constant exhortations and paeans to love from Cal's son, Robbie, succeed in casting some sense of love as the force behind everyone's antics and the force to which everyone must bow. The filial advice eventually spurs Cal to reclaim Emily but in a twist so silly and convenient as to be worthy of opera, all goes to hell in a spectacle equally operatic. Ah ha! It's going to end with the "big silly even in which everyone comes to their senses" right? Wrong. Deftly handled the scene is short and maintains a tone so very hard to strike while completing no fewer than three purposes. It has 1) to weave together the different threads, 2) to close out the action of the scene itself, and 3) cut off certain possibilities whilst opening new ones, but not so many that we throw up our hands and feel like anything can happen or that the resolution is being arbitrarily prolonged.

The final act is short enough to be thought of as a coda, but it in true dramatic fashion it does function to deliver the meaning of the story even though the plot can already be seen to be over. The final scene is a sweet but not cloying education in love, true to the characters and the title. Is love some overruling force, fickle and troublesome, but worth contending with? At the end, I thought so.

Crazy, Stupid, Love could have gone wrong in a thousand ways and at a thousand moments, but a painstakingly fought for tone, a thoughtful avoidance of cliches, and a planned large-scale structure support the great cast. Crazy, Stupid, Love is a pleasure.

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