Tuesday, August 16, 2011

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” Doesn’t Work But Some Others Do

      Crazy, Stupid, Love has one of the best casts in recent memory but, without a coherent script and clear direction, it’s a Lexus stuck in neutral.  I’m late in the game reviewing this since it’s done very well with reviewers and is a box-office hit, but I’ve got to chime in because it’s been extremely over-rated and there are other films out there that deserve much greater or renewed attention.  

      The story is seemingly about middle-class divorce and reconciliation.  It’s been marketed as a smart comedy (maybe comedy-drama) for the discerning viewer that will still take a chance on a mainstream movie without sci-fi effects or Hollywood hardware in the middle of the summer.  Woody Allen’s name has been invoked as well as the specter of anything involving Tom Hanks and/or Meg Ryan.  So already, it’s pretty much all over the place in terms of its precursors and it plays out
in the movie where the tone is also all over the place.  Even the poster leads you to believe something extraordinary.  As Lisa said to me, “Does that remind you of The Graduate?”  The answer is yes, but Dustin Hoffman was playing a virginal 21 year old unsure of how to seduce a bored, cynical 42 year old whereas Steve Carell plays an exhausted 44 year old father of two (well, actually three as it turns out, but we won’t go there) who’s both witless and overwhelmed by a stunning 44 year old more than willing to try whatever.

      The plot, however, jumps about from Steve Carell (miscast as a romantic leading man, even one as initially schlubby as this one’s presented) being dumped by Julianne Moore (giving an authentic portrayal of a middle-class, middle-aged and looking terrific mother and career woman) to his woeful dating life until Ryan Gosling (getting to act and look great in a role he could play in his sleep, but doesn’t until he gets gooey at the end) shows him the moves for how to get laid by Marisa Tomei (she gets three scenes and simply electrifies the screen each time) and then there’s Steve and Julianne’s son (Jonah Bobo – an appealing teenaged actor, who really seems to know something about love unlike the rest of the males in the cast) who has a profound crush on his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton who looks charmingly awkward and adolescent, but came in third on America’s Top Model a couple of seasons back so she could turn into Wendie Malick in a few years if the parts show up), who’s actually in love with Steve, but there’s also Emma Stone (who’s being cast as much recently as Scarlett Johansson was about 3 – 8 years ago so, hopefully, she’ll learn from that career and won’t end up dumped for another starlet du jour) and her best friend (Liza Lapira following in the great tradition of wise-cracking best friend, whether it was Joan Blondell, Eve Arden, Valerie Harper, Sandra Oh to name a few) trying to deal with un/wanted attentions of Josh Groban (how the heck did he end up in this mess?  Well, the intended audience is mature females and I know a lot of them just love him, but won’t love him in this.  Really, though, why?  I’m not a fan of his, but he has demonstrated integrity and this part really sucks) and I haven’t even dealt with Kevin Bacon (he really is a romantic leading man – remember Footloose or She’s Having A Baby?  Why did Hollywood pass him by?  He has more going on in his two not-quite scenes with Julianne than Steve does in the whole movie.  In screen terms, Julianne should be playing with Kevin, but I guess that’s not big box office enough.  Why is Steve Carell big box-office?  He was good in Little Miss Sunshine, but he cannot carry a film because he doesn’t have a strong enough personality and in this genre that means he’s neither funny nor sexy enough, even after the Pygmalion shtick with Ryan Gosling.  He’s decent, intelligent, and kind, but that isn’t what a star has to be and you don’t know that until you realize you’re neither seeing nor feeling it and that you may not realize it until a day later when you’re slamming it in a blog).

      After running around with too many characters – i.e. they’re not well developed and have little individuality besides what the actors can bring to them – the movie then pulls a stunt that really annoyed me.  A major character’s relationship with some others is never enunciated, but is suddenly dropped into the plot in a moment of awkward slapstick.  It’s a referral to a type of film that Alissa Quart called ‘Hyperlink Cinema’ where three or more sets of characters are related to one another, but exist in their own separate stories until they are either brought together through chance encounters or other plot moves.  Some examples would be Robert Altman’s Nashville or Short Cuts or Paul Anderson’s Magnolia or Boogie Nights or Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or Willard Carroll’s Playing By Heart (a seriously underrated film and much better than Crazy---).  I don’t know why this was done except that it has two directors (never good unless they are brothers) who, I suppose, thought it would seem like a statement about society in general????  I’m reaching here, but more successfully than Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the film’s directors.  (They’re more like traffic cops than film directors and they’re certainly not artists).

      I forgot that there’s actually a scene even more horrific than what I described when the son is giving an emotionally painful middle school graduation speech and Steve jumps in so the kid won’t embarrass himself and, instead, Steve gives an even more gooey, crappy speech to Julianne and if this ever happened in real life you know that five hundred people would not sit in rapt, silent attention.  Only Marisa has an honest reaction and I was with her the whole way.  The more I think about it, the worse it gets.  Steve and Julianne never actually get divorced (I guess just in case they decide to get back together, thereby muddying any dramatic emotional investment that the characters would have in their choices), but they’ve been together since 15 and they married young and he has a really good job in Corporate Insurance and she is Executive Assistant to the Vice-President (I read that fast) and their house has got to be at least a couple of million (those jobs are really gooooooood) in that neighborhood and it comes with all the fixings and with the Volvo (I’ve never known a Volvo driver to be a good driver.  That’s why they need the collision safety and that theory is borne out here in a great sight gag) and all these other clean, expensive cars and they can eat out and run up $900 bar tabs and now I get the appeal and intention of the film:  American Consumer Pornography.  

      I could go on, but why waste my typing?  It’s not an awful movie and it’s not fun either.  It certainly isn’t a smart movie.  So, let’s drop this mediocrity and check out some other films that fully explore elements that this one can only suggest in its choppy script.  Oh yes, the other films mentioned earlier are all worth seeing – a couple are masterpieces.  In Good Company where the younger mentor/older protégé whose roles reverse is played with charm, poignancy, and even a note of profundity.    Dennis Quaid, Hollywood’s most underrated leading man (only Ellen DeGeneres seems to get how funny he is) gives the kind of performance that Harrison Ford is acclaimed for giving (but hasn’t since Working Girl) and he’s marvelous with Topher Grace (what happened to him?), who’s somehow intelligent, callow, and decent.  Scarlett Johansson (back when she was in every third movie) plays the older man’s daughter who dates the younger man.  The way that situation is played by the three actors and Marg Helgenberger, lovely as her mother, is complex, funny, awkward, and true, and there’s not one stupid slapstick moment in it.  The Notebook where Ryan Gosling proves he’s a star and the choice that Rachel McAdams who really is beautiful and expressive and talented (she’s vibrant in almost every film even one as formulaic as Morning Glory whereas Emma Stone is sweet and smart, but not capable yet of running in fifth gear) and you believe they have to be together because they’re electrifying together.  James Marsden, the best looking actor of his generation on screen cannot compete with their chemistry.  Adam Sandler and Emily Watson are a maddening, strange couple in Punch-Drunk Love and you can’t take your eyes off them. For a sexy, funny, ‘Hyperlink’ choice where the characters really have made the money to live and play in those surroundings and with those toys, there’s Shampoo and, yes, there were two directors who weren’t brothers (Hal Ashby and the control freak producer-star Warren Beatty) and it works as beautifully as a Restoration comedy.  It also had an extraordinary script by Robert Towne, which is what makes almost all of the difference.  A couple of choices where divorce and its aftermath on a family is both tragic and funny would be Kramer vs. Kramer and Shoot The Moon.  Julianne Moore could have played both those parts, but Steve Carell hasn’t displayed the range that Dustin Hoffman and Albert Finney revealed.  And, finally, for a choice I previously reviewed that really captures the zeitgeist of socio-economic desperation, female friendship, diversity in most of its forms, a cast that actually gets to shine even in the smallest parts, sensitive direction, a splashy finale that simultaneously understands it’s both dopey yet wanted by the audience so somehow right, a great script that careens from screaming hilarity to dark depression, vulgarity to sentiment, and an honestly earned romantic happy ending, and a box office hit to boot, see Bridesmaids.  It really is the Hollywood movie of the year so far. 


Heather said...

I thought the movie looked a bit convoluted so wasn't really planning on seeing it - and it sounds like it is.

I have to 100% disagree with your take on Steve Carrell. Little Miss was one of my favorite movies ever and I think he did a great job carrying the lead in 40 Year Old Virgin. I also really liked Dan in Real Life.

But hey - I also love love love The Office - so maybe I'm biased. I'd still rather watch someone more "real" in a romantic comedy than a perfect male model like Matthew McConaughey.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the in-depth reviews of the shows/film. This saves QM a lot of green papers and envy, because we no longer have the TV box hooked up!

We dropped in to wish y'all a very good, Last Long Weekend of Summer!
Now, for Fall, and the pretty leaves and fresh apple pie - *snniifff**
Be Well,
Rose and the Royals