There's a cracker of a plot twist in the second half of Crazy, Stupid, Love. I didn't see it coming and it is executed beautifully. Within minutes of that high point, however, the scene in question has degenerated into farce, with much grappling and shouting, and the cleverness of that particular narrative wrinkle has been foolishly tossed away. This sequence goes some way to summing up the problem with Crazy, Stupid, Love (beyond the horribly punctuated title, I mean). The film is an astonishingly inconsistent piece of work, with every turn of its overstuffed plot just as likely to yield moments of embarrassment as much as moments of truth and laughter. Generally, however, the sense is one of overwhelming contrivance, with the screenplay by Dan Fogelman putting plot before character and creating a series of encounters that occur as artificial narrative constructs rather than incidents developed in an organic fashion.
Crazy, Stupid, Love follows a group of interconnected characters whose romantic entanglements become very tangled indeed over the course of the film's two hours. Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are a couple growing apart after almost 25 years of marriage, with Emily abruptly announcing that she wants a divorce as they drive home from an unfulfilling meal. Cal reacts to this as any man would, by throwing himself out of the moving car, but when he has regained his senses and started to adjust to single life, he discovers that getting back into the dating game after such a long absence is not easy feat. This is where Jacob (Ryan Gosling) comes in. He spots Cal pathetically drowning his sorrows in a bar and – for some reason – decides to make the rejuvenation of Cal his new project.
You might suspect that this will form the central narrative to Crazy, Stupid, Love, but it's only part of the story. Elsewhere, ladies' man Jacob finds himself being unexpectedly knocked back as he pursues young lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone), Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is infatuated with his teenage babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) while she harbours a crush on the now-single Cal, and Emily is seeing a work colleague (Kevin Bacon). Marisa Tomei also pops up as one of Cal's conquests, but the role she has been given is so excruciating to watch and so far beneath this talented actress that I can't bear to even think about it.
Fogelman is a big believer in comic set-pieces. Robbie makes an embarrassing and implausible declaration of love at school; Jessica takes risqué photos of herself for Cal that you know will end up in the wrong hands; the revelation of Tomei's true identity causes ructions between Cal and Emily; and the film climaxes with a series of sappy speeches at a school graduation. It feels like Fogelman has written his movie around these big moments but the connecting tissue between them is flimsy. The actors do their best with the material, but Carell is stretched in the lead role and the film could have jettisoned many of the scenes involving Robbie and Jessica without losing much of value from the picture. Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's work on the picture is generally solid but mostly anonymous, which is disappointing after their ribald, daring and often brilliant I Love You Philip Morris.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a misfire because it fails to make us believe in its characters or their turbulent emotional states, but there is one narrative strand that works like a charm. Whenever Crazy, Stupid, Love spends time with Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone, things seem to click into gear, and their scenes together are a pleasure to watch. Both actors are confident and talented enough to just play their scenes in a natural way, developing an effortless repartee and chemistry, and it's a particular joy to see Gosling on such relaxed and funny form. Everything seems to come so easily to Gosling and Stone; they're the only people involved in Crazy, Stupid, Love who don't have to force it.