Crazy, Stupid, Love, the romantic comedy starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone, opens on Friday. Early reviews have been sharply divided. Variety’s Peter Debruge observed that there is a “fresh, insightful feel to this multigenerational love story.” Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells wrote, “It was so bad I cried.”
Slate sent two editors to the movie, and, sure enough, one of them thinks you should see it this weekend and one of them thinks you should mow the lawn instead. Their debate follows below, but, first, a very quick plot summary: Emily (Moore) asks Cal (Carell) for a divorce after 25 years of marriage. Cal first falls into a depression, then remakes himself in the image of Jacob (Gosling), a lothario he meets at a bar. Jacob teaches Cal how to be a lady-killer but then falls for Hannah (Stone), the one woman who seems immune to his advances. Cal and Emily’s teenage son Robbie, meanwhile, is in love with his baby-sitter, Jessica—who is in love with Cal. A polarizing farce ensues.
John Swansburg: Jess, I know for a fact that you are neither crazy nor stupid, so I am very much looking forward to you explaining how you enjoyed this movie.
Let’s start at the beginning. In the very first scene, Emily tells Cal she wants a divorce. But she doesn’t give a reason; she just mutters vaguely about a midlife crisis. Didn’t it bother you that we don’t have any idea why the central relationship has fallen apart?
Jessica Grose: I enjoyed that the movie began in medias res—I thought it was clear from Cal’s sloppy appearance and general demeanor that he had stopped trying. I also liked the fact that it is a comedy of remarriage, at least in part; we haven’t seen many of those lately, save It’s Complicated.
Swansburg: What is the evidence that Cal had stopped trying? His New Balance sneakers?
Grose: His whole affect screamed, I pee with the door open. It wasn’t just the sneakers.
Swansburg: I love a good comedy of remarriage, but I just felt like I needed to know more about why their union had failed. Otherwise, what stake do I have in them getting back together? Stay apart, for all I care!
Also, Cal is the kind of guy who sneaks back to the house after the divorce to make sure the watering and weeding gets done properly—you sure he’s peeing with the door open?
Grose: Yes. You can manicure your hedges without … manicuring your emotional hedges—or something. You know—take care of those manly chores without actually connecting with your spouse.
Swansburg: Fair enough.
Grose: In any event, Emily has cheated on Cal with her coworker—David Lindhagen, played by Kevin Bacon. I was surprised that someone of Bacon’s caliber was willing to take such a small part, but maybe, because there are so many big names in this, he just wanted to make the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game even easier for people.
Swansburg: Cal takes the cheating very hard. He must not be a big fan of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Grose: Did you buy his self-medicating at the bar?
Swansburg: I’m not sure I bought it, but I liked how Cal failed even at that—he was trying to wallow at a bar like he’d seen in the movies, but didn’t quite know how. He was drinking Cape Cods!
Grose: True. Even though I am encouraging readers to see this movie, I must say I did not buy that Jacob—the smooth operator played by Gosling—would offer to help Cal in his time of need.
Swansburg: That was going to be my next question!
Grose: In what universe does a smoking hot 30-year-old even talk to a mopey 50-year-old at a bar?
Swansburg: I’ve never seen it happen. And the movie made only the slightest attempt to explain it. Jacob says something to the effect of “Let’s say you remind me of someone.” Who? Him? He couldn’t be frumpy if he tried.
Grose: Still, I enjoyed their scenes together. They had a genuine rapport even in an absurd situation. And I do love me a makeover montage.
Swansburg: Even though I am saying readers should not see this movie, I have to agree—I loved their rapport.
And let it be said: Ryan Gosling looks hot eating a slice of Sbarro in slow motion. Is there higher praise?
Swansburg: I’m glad you brought up the makeover montage. It was kind of a weird makeover. This movie is set in Los Angeles, but it’s a very strange Los Angeles. For starters, there is only one bar in town. Every scene in the movie takes place at the same bar! Also, when Jacob takes Cal for his makeover, they go to … Rodeo Drive? No. They go to the mall.
Grose: This is not high realism. However, the plotting was tight enough for me that I was able to overlook the more ridiculous aspects; they needed to keep going to the same bar to make it work. And, as in the recent rom-com Friends With Benefits, they were poking fun at the genre.
Swansburg: That is a generous reading.
Grose: In one scene, a devastated Cal is outside, and it starts pouring, and he says something like, “This is such a cliché.”
Swansburg: That drove me crazy! Acknowledging the cliché does not absolve you of the clichédness! But, wait,I’m still hung up on the makeover. Didn’t Cal’s wardrobe rethink feel very 2006 to you? Zip-up sweater under a sport coat?!
Grose: Yes, yes, the makeover was crap. But they probably had product placement cash from Banana Republic or wherever. I think you are asking too much from a commercial romantic comedy.
Swansburg: The ethic Jacob tries to instill in Cal is “Be better than The Gap.” So they go to Banana Republic! And he makes him throw away his New Balances! I did like Jacob’s line about how only Steve Jobs gets to wear New Balances. Though Jobs wears the 991s. Cal was wearing 407s.
Grose: You are such a dork.
Swansburg: Maybe I am asking too much of a rom-com. OK, let’s talk Tomei.
Grose: Her part was one thing that almost salted the entire movie for me. She is the first woman that Cal brings home from The Only Bar in L.A., and she’s “crazy”—not in an interesting way. She’s crazy in a desperate, 40-year-old-single-lady way. And Marisa Tomeiis way too hot and talented to play such a character.
Swansburg: Agree. Also, it was confusing: Jacob has taught Cal all these tricks for picking up women at bars. (His works-every-time closer: “Let’s get out of here.”) Cal tries them out on Tomei and flails. Then he tells her the truth—he’s rebounding from a divorce—and she jumps him. But then after he beds Tomei, he doesn’t keep going with the honesty thing; he reverts to Jacob’s playbook and starts killing it at the bar. Sleeping with a different lady every night. Steve Carell. Did you buy that?
Grose: Sort of.He’s attractive enough.I don’t know what the scene is like at The Only Bar in L.A. Maybe in this mystical place, Steve Carell’s steez is catnip. Who knows.
Swansburg: Well, it definitely helped that the female to male ratio was 10:1. The Only Bar in L.A. has a discerning bouncer.
Grose: It didn’t take me out of the plot that he was suddenly getting lots of ladies. The acting was good enough.
Swansburg: You were really locked into that plot, Jess! Did you think that Gosling and Stone had good chemistry?
Grose: Very good chemistry. And just one note about Emma Stone: I love her!
She brought a brightness and intelligence to her role as a good-girl law student that could have been awfully bland with another actress (and, as we know from my interview with Ryan Gosling, their big love scene together was improvised).
Swansburg: I will stipulate that Stone was great, for the reasons you enumerate. And the scene when Jacob finally gets her back to his place was, I thought, a clever deconstruction of a standard rom-com seduction scene. But what about her terrible friend!
Grose: OK, yes. Let’s discuss the terrible friend.She was such a stock character—the straight-talking, hard-drinking sidekick. Is it progress that the sassy black best friend has been replaced by the sassy Asian best friend? Probably not!
Swansburg: I don’t think so.
Grose: I do confess that I laughed at some of her jokes, though.
Swansburg: As the characters in this movie might say: Seriously?
Swansburg: Wow. OK, I’ve got another hard one for you. Defend the plot line in which Cal’s son pines for his baby-sitter, played by the pouty Analeigh Tipton. I dare you!
Grose: That was over the top.And the overly precocious kid is a type I pretty much never want to see again.In anything.
Swansburg: We are of one mind on that. Although I did like that when the baby-sitter walks in on him masturbating, he just rolls with it and confesses “I was thinking about you.” Precocious indeed.
Grose: It’s funny, we seem to agree on so many aspects of this movie, and yet you would not recommend people see it. Why do you think that is? I think it goes back to my suspicion that you expect too much from a big-budget rom-com. It was much better than say, Valentine’s Day. Or many other star-studded extravaganzas. It was clever, and I laughed aloud at least four times. That is enough for my summer viewing!
Swansburg: Good question. I think it’s because you were able to forgive the movie its failures of realism and I was not. This is a point that Jeff Wells makes in his truly savage review, and I agree with him: Just because this is a big-budget comedy doesn’t mean that it can get away with misrepresenting how life is actually lived. If the audience doesn’t recognize the world or the predicaments of these characters, what is there to laugh about? For example, the scene in which Cal’s friend “breaks up” with him because he and his wife have chosen to side with Emily in the divorce. That rang completely false: He brings Cal some cologne from Macy’s as a consolation! Come on. It took me two scenes to get over that. And I guess I also just didn’t think the movie was all that clever. I was rolling my eyes a lot.
OK, there’s a spoiler we should discuss, but we really shouldn’t ruin it for the poor readers who are persuaded by your case for this movie.
Grose: Yes, we definitely need to discuss. Readers, click here for spoilage.
Swansburg: In honor of Emma Stone’s character, who, as you noted, is a budding attorney, let’s each offer a closing argument.
Grose: Readers, you should go see this movie because it’s a well-acted romantic comedy with an unpredictable plot. It is truly commercial, so if that is not your bag, go see The Future instead, which will probably have far fewer conventional things to say about love and marriage. Also: Ryan Gosling’s abs. The defense rests.
Swansburg: Readers, it pains me to say this, because I respect the opinion of my colleague Jess and I have abiding affection for the fine cast of this movie, but you should not go see Crazy, Stupid, Love. It is long, and yet the characters are thinly sketched, probably because there are too many of them. The film will damage your rightfully high opinion of Marissa Tomei. She has been done a criminal disservice by the directors, who coaxed out of her a histrionic performance that felt as if it belonged in a different (also bad) movie. Also, the mother of the baby-sitter in this movie uses the word vajayjay.
Grose: Point for the prosecution.
Swansburg: It is posited that it is cool to drink mojitos.
Grose: I think it is neutral to drink mojitos.
Swansburg: We’ll let the jury decide that one I guess.
Grose: Should I disclose that I had two glasses of wine before I saw this movie? Does it color my review?
Swansburg: I demand a mistrial!
Grose: I would have passed a breathalyzer test!
Swansburg: If you do go to this movie, have two glasses of wine before you see it.
Grose: Fair enough.
Swansburg: Two stiff mojitos would be even better.
Grose: John, as always, it has been a delight IM-ing with you.
Swansburg: Likewise! Let’s get out of here.