The romantic-comedy genre takes a beating like nothing else, with the possible exception of horror, but we all know that it’s a genre that not only must exist, but must churn out titles at an incredible rate. There simply has to be a date option at the theater.
So far gone is the genre in the collective psyche, that when something comes along that we find ourselves loving – let’s say When Harry Met Sally, just to throw out an easy one – there is some nagging itch in our brain that wants us to think of it as being in some other genre. It’s comedy. Or, it’s… just romantic. Or, it’s romantic-comedy, and all those other things are “rom-com.”
Crazy, Stupid, Love is the next offering that falls into the category of the exception that proves the rule. A romantic comedy that, though it has some glaring missteps, isn’t about shticks and gimmicks, and doesn’t try to make you laugh by turning out tricks that got old at the schoolyard. Rather, it aims at the true heart of the genre, which has been thoroughly bastardized all these years, and runs with the idea that the genre builds its own comedy, just like in real life.
What powers the genre is the undeniable comedy inherent in trying to find two people who can exist together and make sense of themselves, while having to actually go through life, because it’s hard enough to find one person who can make sense of themselves while having to actually go through life.
When Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal (Steve Carrell) that she wants a divorce, and proceeds to deliver details on the affair she’s had, and the fact that she just feels like they aren’t “together” anymore, Cal jumps out of the moving car. Cut to their return home, and now Cal has to drive the babysitter home, because life just keeps going whether you’re world has been destroyed or not, and the babysitter is standing there, and she isn’t going to move by sheer force of will. It’s the reality built into situations like these that give Crazy, Stupid, Love, not only its power, but its undeniable charm.
When Cal moves into an apartment, but spends all of his time at a local bar, he catches the eye of Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is a player who also frequents the establishment, and he eventually calls Cal over. Sick of hearing him whine about his wife, and the guy who cuckolded him (because Cal keeps saying “cuckold”), Jacob offers to remake him into a new man. Jacob takes him out to get new clothes, and takes Cal along as he gets woman after woman to go home with him.
Meanwhile, as if life weren’t complicated enough, Cal’s son relentlessly pursues the crush he has on the aforementioned babysitter, who, unfortunately, has a crush on Cal. Other events relay still further angles on love and dating, as we watch Hannah (Emma Stone), one of Jacob’s few failed attempts, lumber along in a relationship she isn’t particularly interested in, but seems safe enough.
The rest of the journey plays out largely as we’d expect, but with certain twists of theory. As we come to the endgame, Jacob delivers the genre-mandatory speech about how all this time he was making Cal more like him, but of course, he really wanted to be more like Cal, and was hoping to get there via the relationship, but he doesn’t really give it, and even offers the line, “Look, do I really have to say this?” That scene sums up the film’s effort rather brilliantly, and tells you everything you need to know about how this plays out, how much you will enjoy it, and whether or not there is something worth watching going on.
Yes, you need to say it. That’s the genre we’re in, and whatever attempts you make to avoid them, there are rules. But, if you can say it, while mostly not saying it, and give the attempt at avoidance everything you’ve got… well, then you just might be on to something.