Steve Carell and Julianne Moore star in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (Warner Bros. Pictures )
"Crazy, Stupid, Love" is one from the heart and one for the heart. This grand romantic gesture about grand romantic gestures conjures up the bittersweet magic of first loves, lasting loves, lost loves and all the loves in between. It may well restore your faith in the very possibility of love, to say nothing of romantic comedies.
The sprawling cast that keeps hearts — theirs and yours — pitter-pattering is made up of a strong central core comprised of Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton. Given the general A+ efforts of the entire crew, it doesn't feel right to single anyone out, but I will, and we'll get back to a few distinctive romantic ploys and plays in a bit.
Because there is a mix of such sweet familiarity and surprising freshness in the story capped by a clever twist along the way, I have to start with a nod to the writer, Dan Fogelman. Unless you count the unfunny "Fred Claus" with Vince Vaughn, and I don't, Fogelman's best writing until now has been in animation, with the taunting and tantalizing "Tangled" the high point. In "Crazy, Stupid, Love," he's come up with a script driven by realism without cynicism that is so winningly sentimental it is almost enough to turn that word into praise rather than the pejorative dig it has become.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa understand what a little gem they've been given. The guys have been a creative team since film school, specializing in comedy — 2003's "Bad Santa" was their cleverest and last year's "I Love You Phillip Morris," their sweetest. Until "Crazy." Here they've made the very best of both those worlds. They can always be counted on to bring a certain ease to their farces, but in "Crazy," the fun flows absolutely effortlessly and almost endlessly, with the slapstick only tripping them up occasionally.
The film opens with Cal (Carell) and Emily (Moore) going through the motions of a date-night dinner, at the moment trying to decide what else they might want before heading home. He chooses a dessert; she wants a divorce. Once the D-word's on the table, the first in a long string of emotional dominoes begins to fall.
It's not just Cal and Emily's hearts that are on the line either. At home, 13-year-old Robbie (Bobo) is fantasizing about his 17-year-old baby sitter, Jessica (an excellent Tipton), who is fantasizing about Cal. The neighborhood bar where Cal lands after the blowup is home turf for Jacob (Gosling), a player always on the prowl who eventually takes pity on the suburban dad. Jacob is a little wounded too, or at least surprised that none of his pickup lines has worked with a certain girl named Hannah (Stone). An underplayed Kevin Bacon and an overplayed Marisa Tomei (she really can do a lot more than hyper-sexuality) turn up as the main romantic temptations for the newly fractured couple.
Now that all the plates are spinning, as the title suggests, everyone goes a little crazy, which involves everyone getting a little stupid, all in an effort to find love. The film is jam-packed with flavorful comic bits, but Jacob's attempt to turn Cal into a player, which includes a mall and a makeover, is one of the best. Young Bobo holds his own among all the veterans as Robbie goes to Shakespearean extremes to woo Jessica. Meanwhile, Tipton works wonders with the emotional churn of a teenager's desperate measures to tempt Cal.
With all the chasing-after-love going on, at times the film feels like a play done in rounds — starting slow, then picking up speed until the action and the implications are piling up faster than you can keep track of. Then just as you're feeling dizzy, everything slows down to allow you to savor a scene. The way in which the hookup between Gosling's lothario and Stone's smart but vulnerable Hannah turns into a slow flirt that reveals their interior amid all the sexual heat is just lovely.
Often what makes the comedy work is the way it is played alongside the tragedy. Cal absorbing the fact that the high school sweetheart he married may not love him anymore comes with pratfalls, but pain lives in those scenes too.
Carell, who's done such fine work for years in the acerbic series "The Office," has been hit-and-miss on the movie front. Excellent in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" but otherwise not quite finding his footing either as a romantic lead — stumbling in "Date Night" with Tina Fey — or a silly goof à la "Dinner With Schmucks." In "Crazy" he's found his sweet spot again, the decent guy who's trying to do the right thing even when he makes a mess of it.
Meanwhile, Emma Stone ("Easy A") is turning out to be the most refreshing of "it" girls ever — because of all the things she isn't. Her beauty is built on a nontraditional look that includes a lot of inner strength. She's spicy instead of being just a sweet tart, and she's always as smart as she is funny. All that plays off Gosling's nuanced performance just about perfectly.
As much as the movie is about couples and coupling, it is also a film about families, and the filmmakers find a way to give that its due as well. Because that is, after all, where true romance so often leads. Between the writing, acting, directing and the rest, it works. Not crazy, not stupid, and filled with love. Period.