The punctuation is telling in the title of Crazy, Stupid, Love, the newest film by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (whose last film was the barely released I Love You Phillip Morris.).
The first two words aren't adjectives modifying the third. Rather, they're like a list of synonyms, words that all describe the same thing. To play along, I'd say this Ficarra/Requa effort is wild, heartfelt, thoughtful.
It's obvious that the studio is trying to sell this as a knockabout sex farce with Steve Carell as the main attraction. But this is a movie that changes directions unexpectedly -- a couple of times -- and plays with tones in ways that lead to deeper feelings and moments of unexpectedly big laughs. The story never goes where you expect it to -- and that's incredibly refreshing.
At some point, hopefully, Carell will be able to shake that need to play schlemiels -- even lovable schlemiels. He's capable of so much more -- indeed, it would be intriguing to see him play the smartest guy in the room for a change. Still, with Crazy, Stupid, Love, he comes closer to that than anything he's done since Dan in Real Life or Little Miss Sunshine.
His character, Cal Weaver, is a sad sack -- but you gradually realize that, in fact, he wasn't always that way -- and doesn't have to remain a loser if he doesn't want to. First seen at dinner with wife Emily (Julianne Moore), he is poleaxed when she tells him that she's slept with someone else and that she wants a divorce.
Deeply hurt, he moves out into a forlorn little bachelor apartment and begins hanging out in a singles bar near his place -- though he hasn't a clue how to talk to women. He's been married his whole adult life and Emily, it turns out, was his high-school sweetheart. Finally, the bar's resident swinger, Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), decides to make Cal his project -- to give him a fashion and attitude makeover and re-engage him in his own life.
This is the film's funniest sequence, with Gosling demonstrating a deft sense of timing and presence. He's not classically handsome like, say, George Clooney -- but he has Clooney's sense of fun, that blend of reserve and bravura that makes him catnip to women. And his tutelage actually begins to work on Cal, who finally scores with a recovering alcoholic played with wonderful chipper energy by Marisa Tomei.
In most films that are advertised the way this film is being marketed, that would be it: the loser would become a winner and re-attract his lost mate. Or the loser would become a winner and overplay his hand until he's a complete cad, before reconnecting with his ex-, which turns him back into his former sweet self.
But Dan Fogelman's script wants to drill down deeper into the real emotions of this world. Life is so much more complex than romantic comedies would have us believe -- and this film understands that. Plus Fogelman isn't afraid to go off on tangents that lead to a wonderful payoff.
Because, really, this is a movie about unrequited love, as much as anything else. There's a daisy chain of people who love someone who doesn't return the affection, starting with Cal and Emily and working its way down to Cal's son (Jonah Bobo) and his crush on the family babysitter (who has a thing for Cal). Most romantic comedies pussyfoot around this idea before eventually putting the two people who obviously are right for each other together; Fogelman's script and Ficarra/Requa's movie instead use these frustrated longings as the fodder for richer comedy that ultimately speaks to the larger issues of love and commitment.
Carell brings a raw quality to Cal, a heart-on-the-sleeve guy who learns to put up his shields and then has to figure out when to let them down. Carell is still a master at the comedy of humiliation, but he doesn't have to lean on that here.
Moore, who showed her comic chops in The Kids Are Alright, plays straight here, but is an apt foil for both Carell and Kevin Bacon (as the coworker she slept with). Gosling is the real comic find -- and he is perfectly matched with Emma Stone, as the rare girl who doesn't fall for his lines. Bobo and Analeigh Tipton (as the babysitter) are a quality-added attraction in the film.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is the summer's most enjoyably surprising film: a comedy that knows how to pay more attention to the feelings it explores than to creating a conveyor belt for punchlines. It earns its laughs - and then some.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine