Can a film about divorce and learning how to pick up women be heart-warming and enjoyable for this Catholic movie critic? Yes, and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) proves it. There is some other material in it that is questionable as well. However, as with so many things in life, it is all about the way such material is handled. The title speaks to the realistic take that it attempts on romance. While I doubt any of us have gone through exactly what these characters did, particularly at the end, there are aspects with which many of us can probably identify. And while each of them delves into behaviors I would rather not see them engage in, there is at least an ideal to which they are all striving for the most part. As an idealist myself, I will take that any day.
Crazy, Stupid, Love begins with several couples out to dinner. The camera focuses on their footwear, their stylishness indicating the fancy surroundings. Then we get to Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore), and Cal’s New Balance sneakers speak to the comfortability of a husband with a wife of many years. They are deciding what to have for dessert, having familiar conversation about whether or not they ate too much already, when Emily suddenly blurts out that she wants a divorce. This is something that Cal is not expecting. On their ride home, Emily reveals that she had slept with a co-worker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), and rationalizes her behavior. They are returning to their home where their children are being babysat by Jessica Riley (Lio Tipton), a local seventeen year old high schooler. The Weaver’s oldest son, eighth grader Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is in love with Jessica. He declares his feelings in the most awkward way possible before his parents get home, shortly after she walks in on him in his bedroom. I am going to leave it at that and allow you to infer what happened based on my obtuseness. As soon as the Weaver’s get home, they reveal that they are splitting up to the shock of everyone in the room. This is also big news for Jessica, who has a crush on Cal. As you can see, things are a bit tangled and it may sound like a serious movie, but this is all handled in a light-hearted manner. Cal also begins the process of moving out. At the same time, he starts hanging out in a nearby bar, drowning his sorrows in alcohol and telling anyone who will listen about the bad things that happened to him. This is also the same bar where we first meet two other principal characters. The first is Hannah Weaver (Emma Stone), a law school student who is about to graduate and take the bar exam. Before Cal arrives, she is approached by Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a debonair man who attempts to pick her up. She turns him down and leaves. Cal comes back to this watering hole a second night, as does Jacob, and they strike up a conversation. Jacob decides to mentor the older Cal because his behavior is bringing down the mood of the ladies he is attempting to woo, and because he feels sorry for Cal. Under Jacob’s tutelage, Cal learns to dress better and how to approach women with more confidence. After getting the hang of closing such “deals,” a term I do not like to use, from watching Jacob do so many times, Cal embarks on a string of one-night stands himself. However, he still has feelings for Emily, and it is encouraged by Robbie who wants to see his parents reconcile. Robbie also wants his dad to inspire him with his feelings for Jessica, and he resorts to increasingly grander gestures in the hopes of getting her to like him. As for Hannah, she believes that her current boyfriend Richard (Josh Groban) is going to propose after she passes the bar exam. After this is accomplished but she does not receive the expected proposal, she decides to head to the familiar bar and allow Jacob to take her home. Their interaction does not go the way she believes. As it turns out, they have a lot in common and begin dating. It is when Cal is about to attempt to win back Emily that more is revealed: Hannah is Cal’s oldest offspring; Hannah brings Jacob to meet everyone and sees Cal; Jessica’s parents find out that she had taken explicit pictures of herself for Cal; and then David Lindhagen pops in. Luckily, no one is arrested in the resulting tussle, but Cal is adamant that Hannah should be with Jacob. With everything falling apart, Robbie begins to think that true love is a sham. He says as much during his eighth grade graduation speech. Before it can take a dark turn, Cal intervenes and talks about how he is also a believer in true love and grand romantic gestures. This is enough to show everyone how sorry he is, all is forgiven, and everyone seems to make up.
I am of two minds when it comes to what Jacob brings out of Cal in Crazy, Stupid, Love. On the one hand, the way Jacob treats women, and what he teaches Cal, is despicable. To say that they objectify women is an understatement. On the other hand, Jacob is able to get Cal to take some pride in himself. Pride is a tricky thing for us Catholics. It is listed as one of the seven deadly sins for good reason. Pride can lead to some awful sins, and Jacob and Cal’s actions are a perfect example of this notion. Jacob, in particular, is vain to say the least, and literally tells women that what they have to say is boring. What wins them over is his good looks. Yet, it is during his first night with Hannah that he reveals a dead father who was much like Cal, which also partially explains why he was drawn to the older man. In having a real conversation with Hannah, Jacob realizes how he had been trying to fill a void in his life that he had been covering with misplaced pride in his sexual conquests and material things. Pride that leads us to love ourselves is good, and God wants us to have a healthy self love, as He does for us. That is a truer lover than we can ever comprehend, but it is more along the lines of what Robbie, Cal, and ultimately Jacob are actually seeking. It sometimes takes going through experiences I would rather not see filmed for people to arrive at the right place.
While the subject matter in Crazy, Stupid, Love is adult, there are actually no explicit scenes. It is a good date night movie, and it is currently available on Netflix. I made it sound much more serious than it actually is, but there are some genuine laughs in it, particularly when everyone shows up when Cal is attempting to win back Emily. I shake my head at the way Cal handles the prospects of being divorced, but I am glad to see that he comes around to the right way eventually, along with everyone else.