118 minutes

It is fair to say that screenwriting team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's sophomore directing effort, after their much-talked-about I Love You Philip Morris, looks a lot like a studio assignment: handling a romantic comedy they did not write, masterminded by its producer/star Steve Carell. But it turns out that Crazy, Stupid, Love. is quite something else: though posing as a mosaic romantic comedy following three generations of Los Angeles resident's mishaps with the big L, this is in fact a bittersweet roundelay of people blindsided by the strength of feelings they can't quite explain.

     Hence, kind-hearted schlub Cal Weaver (Mr. Carell) is still in love with the insecure wife who just asked for a divorce out of the blue (Julianne Moore); smooth ladies' man Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) finds himself madly in love with the one girl who resists him (Emma Stone); and Cal's tween son (Jonah Bobo) indulges in mad pining for his babysitting teenager neighbour (Analeigh Tipton) who is pining herself for an older man. Men, seemingly, are dumb when it comes down to love - but women aren't really any better as Dan Fogelman's perceptive script posits love as an equal-opportunity offender, regardless of age and sex.

     Messrs. Ficarra and Requa's film manages to respect the surface requirements of a romantic comedy (down to the pat ending that restores some semblance of normality to the events that came before), effortlessly crosscutting the various stories to reach a fine head of steam in a surprise reveal that ties together in the third act the several plot lines. Better yet, nearly every character comes across as a real person rather than just an archetype, with real issues and real feelings behind the glossy facade of Andrew Dunn's lensing, though the sheer amount of characters does mean some of them end up getting short shrift even at two hours' length. Mr. Carell confirms his spot-on choice of bittersweet material after The 40-Year Old Virgin and Dan in Real Life, gently underlining Cal's faults and his kindness. Marisa Tomei runs away with her two scenes as a sex-starved teacher who is one of Cal's attempts at one-night-stands, while Ms. Moore does the best she can with one the few underwritten parts in the film, but it's Mr. Gosling and Ms. Stone that effectively run off with the movie in their crackling back-and-forth.

     It is pretty much Mr. Gosling's film, actually - his smooth operator masking a desperate need to please and belong is a stunningly effortless performance that should propel him to Hollywood's major league. But there is a lot more to Crazy, Stupid, Love than just the acting - there's a pleasing, unpretentious quality to it, and the fact it never really shies away from the complexity of love stories is quite unusual coming from a major studio these days. Not a masterpiece, but certainly the best Hollywood romantic comedy in a long time - even if it isn't quite a romantic comedy.

Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo, John Carroll Lynch, Analeigh Tipton, Josh Groban; with Marisa Tomei; and Kevin Bacon.
     Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa; produced by mr. Carell, Denise di Novi; written by Dan Fogelman; music by Christophe Beck, Nick Urata; director of photography (colour, Panavision widescreen), Andrew Dunn; production designer, William Arnold; costume designer, Dayna Pink; film editor, Lee Haxall.
     A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation of a Carousel/Di Novi Pictures production. (US distributor and world sales, Warner Bros. Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), September 16th 2011. 


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