Just how likable is the new romantic comedy with the ungainly title of Crazy, Stupid, Love.? Likable enough that it survives not one but two absurd narrative coincidences that would cripple a lesser film. That's some pretty powerful mojo at work there, my friends.
The secret to the film's success starts with its blue-chip cast, the summer's finest gathering of thespians with the possible exception of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Steve Carell, whose ability to tap into wells of deep-seated emotion elevates him above most of the current comedic pack, plays Cal Weaver, a typical suburban schlub; Julianne Moore, the real star of The Kids Are All Right (sorry, Annette), plays Emily Weaver, who suddenly announces to her husband that she wants a divorce. Rocked right down to his rumpled pants and designer sneakers, Cal spends his post-breakup period wallowing in nightly pity parties at a stylish bar. His caterwauling attracts the attention of uber-stud Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), who elects to take Cal under his wing and teach him how to be a successful ladies' man. Before long, Cal is reborn as a swinging single, but the resultant meaningless sex can't conceal the fact that all he really wants is his wife back in his arms. For his part, Jacob finally meets a woman — Emma Stone's aspiring attorney Hannah — who stirs his heart as much as his libido.
That right there is enough plot to pack a running time (in fact, it once was; see the similarly themed Hitch), but writer Dan Fogelman clearly had taken his vitamins before cranking this one out. There's also the major story thread focusing on the pursuit of a 17-year-old high school beauty (Analeigh Tipton) by the Weavers' 13-year-son (Jonah Bobo). And let's not forget the single Cal's romp with a spirited bar pickup (Marisa Tomei), or the continuing presence of Emily's marital fling, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). That's a lot of material for one film and, not surprisingly, there are some casualties: I would have liked to have seen much more of the relationship between Jacob and Hannah, especially given the bright chemistry between Gosling and Stone.
To help himself make all of these competing plotlines somewhat manageable, Fogelman takes some shortcuts by tossing in the aforementioned pair of whopping coincidences. The first is minor and easily dismissed, but the second affects the entire film and, worse, is revealed in a silly sequence that culminates in an over-the-top physical brawl. Fortunately, the actors continue to shine, the movie's hard-won truths are articulated in an unlikely but effective denouement, and all is forgiven.