"Crazy, Stupid, Love." believes in the miraculous power of romance to transform schlubs into studs and reduce cocky Lotharios to puppies.
Yet, it also understands how this unpredictable force can wipe out reason and turn ordinary, sane people into blithering basketcases operating on embarrassing impulses and obsessive whims.
"Crazy, Stupid, Love"★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations. 107 minutes
"Crazy, Stupid, Love." constantly surprises us. Then it surprises us more.
It loves all of its flawed and flailing characters with equal abandon and celebrates the ability of love -- we're talking true love, mind you -- to triumph over thoughtless and hurtful actions.
This is a very smart, fresh, funny and endearing comedy that tells us love means you always have to say you're sorry, because forgiveness is a useful weapon in the fight for personal happiness.
Cal ("The Office" refugee Steve Carell) thinks he's been happily married to his junior high crush Emily (Julianne Moore) for more than two decades when she blurts out "I want a divorce!"
Now in a single apartment existence, Cal tries the bar scene, but his Velcro-closure wallet, bad haircut and dingy New Balance Model 407 runners (the 700 and 800 series are far superior) prove to be instant chick repellents.
A lady-killer bar denizen named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) watches Cal drink his berry-flavored vodka from a straw and loudly lament how his wife has been seduced by her office mate, David.
Out of pity, or maybe because he just can't take the whining anymore, Jacob brings Cal under his rooster's wing. He dresses Cal. Gets his hair styled. Gives him advice on how to regain his manhood.
"Do you know when you lost it?" Jacob asks.
"A strong case can be made for 1984," Cal replies.
Once up to cruising speed, Cal hits his stride with women, especially a hottie schoolteacher (played with zesty desperation by a scene-stealing Marisa Tomei).
Meanwhile, a young law student named Hannah (the stunningly vulnerable Emma Stone) has been waiting for her drippy boyfriend to propose. When that fizzles, she blindly resorts to angry sex with that sleazy guy who tried to pick her up at the start of the movie: Jacob.
You know that lame montage of PG-13-rated naked body parts edited together in the obligatory sex scene that we expect to see? Not here.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (they gave us the off-putting "I Love You Phillip Morris") capture the magic of new romance as Jacob and Hannah stay up all night, sharing their lives and becoming giddy with each new discovery they make.
Gosling reveals the sensitive human being under Jacob's sleazy exterior. Stone turns to Jell-O in his presence.
It's one of several wonderfully wrought montage sequences that Ficarra and Requa construct as they have fun with the usual rom-com clichés, especially the slow-motion shots of attractive people moving through a room while on the make.
You know that cheap cliché when someone feels sad, and it suddenly rains? It happens to Cal, too. Except he mutters to himself, "What a cliché!"
Regrettably, many of the movie's best punch lines and sight gags are ruined by TV commercials and theatrical trailers. Caveat emptor.
Dan Fogelman's wise and well-structured script poses a good question: Why can't older married people remember what adolescents believe: that soul mates are always worth fighting for? Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) can't understand why his dad won't fight for his mom as the lecherous David (a comically restrained Kevin Bacon) moves in.
Robbie has his own obsessions, mainly his 17-year-old baby sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). But she has the hots for her older employer, Cal, a best friend of her father, Bernie (John Carroll Lynch).
Jessica, operating on bad advice from a classmate, decides to get Cal's attention by sending him nude photos of herself in an envelope.
Sure, it's crazy.
Yes, it's stupid.
True, it's love.
And what a perfect title.