During the summer when you're starved for anything more substantial than transforming robots or pirates with heavy eyeshadow, it can be easy to go gaga over a movie that pretends to offer deeper, more complex characters. How else to explain the generally strong reviews and good box office for "Crazy, Stupid, Love.," a grownup look at the difficulties of love at a time when "Cowboys & Aliens" and "The Smurfs" were the main competition? But now that the Steve Carell comedy-drama is coming out on DVD, maybe it's time to face the awful truth: It's a really, really overrated movie.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who previously helmed "I Love You Phillip Morris" and wrote "Bad Santa"), "Crazy, Stupid, Love." wants to examine all the ways love messes with us, focusing on the divorce of a Los Angeles couple (Carell and Julianne Moore). But the film also extends outward to look at other people in their orbit: a suave ladies' man (Ryan Gosling), a law student (Emma Stone) trapped in a bland relationship, and a young teen boy (Jonah Bobo) who has a crush on his babysitter.
With a twisting narrative structure that might remind you of "Babel" or "Crash" in all the wrong ways, "Crazy, Stupid, Love." very clearly sees itself as some sort of definitive, this-is-the-way-things-are look at romance that sets itself apart from all those "other" romantic comedies where cliched, manipulative things (like powerful emotional moments occurring during rainstorms) happen. As if to prove their point, the filmmakers constantly flaunt their tart, wised-up dialogue and knowing references to genre conventions. The movie never misses a moment to congratulate you for being smart enough to get how smart "Crazy, Stupid, Love." is. And, honestly, how have you lived this long trudging through mindless rom-coms without "Crazy, Stupid, Love." to show you how silly all those movies were?
The huge problem, however, is that what Ficarra and Requa have put in the place of the usual cliches are a whole mess of sitcom banalities pretending to be witty insights into modern romance. Just take Gosling's character, who's supposed to be such an exaggerated version of a smooth-talking seducer that he's never once believable. He's like John Larroquette's Dan Fielding character from "Night Court", but treated as if it was a real person. Just as ludicrous is the film's conceit that the sheltered Carell would suddenly become a swinging single man just by following Gosling's advice. (It basically boils down to Be Classy and Don't Be A Pushover. It's like getting dating tips from vodka ads.) If this was a broad comedy, this might all be goofy, silly fun, but "Crazy, Stupid, Love." prides itself on being a nuanced, smart alternative to mindless studio fare. (That's what all those "serious" conversations about romance and commitment between Carell and Moore are about.) So instead it's faux-deep, but because there aren't any poop jokes, hey, it's better than "The Change-Up," right?
Maybe, but just barely. But even "The Change-Up" didn't resort to really cheap third-act plot twists that are supposed to be "shocking" but end up feeling like cheating. "Crazy, Stupid, Love." parades its characters' messy lives as a stamp of its "authenticity," but hopefully no one you know has a love life as horribly glib and cutesy as what's on display here. If that's the case, you don't need Gosling's ladies' man to advise you -- you may just want to find a whole new crop of friends.