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On the basis of its title, "Crazy, Stupid, Love." belongs in the "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" camp of punctuation lessons. Surely if there were no commas, it would be suggesting that the love depicted in this film is particularly crazy and stupid — otherwise, why specify? That happens not to be the case, actually, even though every major character in the film is falling for another, in some fashion, each in ways that feel exceedingly honest, despite the trouble that most of that crushing will bring. Their loves don't feel any crazier or any stupider than your most recent romance, nor do the characters. In all, it is an exemplary date movie, funny and moving, with a few surprises and enough reliance on romantic comedy formula to qualify, by the end, as cinematic comfort food.
This one begins on a down note, as Julianne Moore's Emily, amid what she guesses might be a midlife crisis, admits to her husband Cal, played by the straightest Steve Carell you've ever seen, that she has slept with a coworker (Kevin Bacon) and wants to divorce. Cal, despite having loved her and only her since he was 15, surrenders immediately and blurts to the babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) and his 13-year-old son Robbie (a precocious Jonah Bobo) that they're divorcing. He doesn't realize Jessica has a crush on him; and Robbie has just proclaimed his love for Jessica. Unrequited all around, everybody hurts.
Frumpy, middle-aged and newly single, without so much as a sprig of pick-up artistry in his quiver, Cal takes to hanging around a posh meet-market lounge and complaining loudly that he has been cuckolded. A wolfishly dashing gadabout named Jacob (Ryan Gosling, jacked) takes Cal on as a special project, volunteering to help him become a more confident, better-shod metrosexual with a thirst for feminine insecurity. Some successes ensue (somehow, in this world, Marisa Tomei is not handily out of Steve Carell's league) and yet Cal pines for Emily, Jessica pines for Cal, Robbie pines for Jessica, and Jacob, who can pluck any woman from the bar at any time, holds a flame for the only one who spurned him, a young lawyer-type named Hannah (the incomparably striking Emma Stone).
Lay it all out like that, and it's easy to see how the dominoes are aching to fall. "Crazy, Stupid, Love." announces several times that it's not above a touch of farce, but mostly directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who also collaborated variously on "Bad Santa" and "I Love You Phillip Morris") manage to imbue the film with an indie sensibility that steers away from the kind of paint-by-numbers schlock that makes most big-release romantic comedies feel like stupid, stupid love. It gives the finger to the Gap, for instance, in no uncertain terms, but ultimately returns to play nice with nuclear family values. Jacob can't go on as an unstoppable sex machine forever, nor can Cal move on from the mother of his kids. In fact the only one here who goes ahead with anything truly, beautifully crazy/stupid is Jessica in her efforts to reach for Cal. The rest of them are just in love, gazing at stars, bumping into things. As Robbie will tell you: "Love is the biggest scam of all."