Cal (Steve Carell), if objectively observed from afar, would immediately call to mind a string of Steve Carell characters, the type of guy who is earnest to a fault (outrageously so, for instance in Dinner For Schmucks), inarticulate when confronted by moments of intimacy with members of the opposite sex (even those members he has years of shared experiences with, a la Date Night), and, at the start, a bit of a late bloomer (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) or a diamond in the rough (Dan in Real Life). Although it must be said that his version of “the rough” really only requires a bit of light sanding to smooth him out — these guys, these Steve Carell-types, never have any truly jagged edges. Quite possibly, the most defining element of these characters is that they are on the verge of breaking through the final stage of their arrested development.
All of which leads back to Cal — the latest Steve Carell iteration, in Crazy, Stupid, Love., from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the writing/directing combo behind I Love You Phillip Morris) — and his moment on the precipice. Having completed dinner with his wife Emily (Julianne Moore), he proposes that, on the count of three, they offer up the first thing that comes to mind. He’s scanning dessert options; she asks for a divorce. It's not difficult to fathom why there’s such a huge discrepancy between them. They met in high school, married young and settled into the idealized routine — three kids, steady jobs, no footsy under the table and no real dates anymore. Cal is a good man, but one without passion or even the sense that he should have any deeper desires in life.
Enter Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a walking talking hormone with style to spare who watches Cal as he free-falls night after night at an upscale bar, spilling all of the details about how his wife left him for another man. Cal is on the verge of hitting bottom and hitting it hard, but this isn’t that movie (Ficarra, Requa and screenwriter Dan Fogelman keep him a few drinks away from Leaving Las Vegas).
Instead, Jacob picks Cal up and transforms him, Karate Kid-style, into a man miles away from the one he might have become if he hadn’t married and settled into fatherhood at an early age — the kind of man women can’t resist and that other men, the curiously open and observant types, secretly scout out while half-listening to their dates and wives or the other couples they spend time with. The emerging Cal tentatively begins to connect with his 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), a hopeless romantic who believes the babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) is his soulmate and is willing to share the knowledge that she is the object of his fantasies with the whole world.
Somewhere along the way Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), the smart and striking overachiever who dares to ignore the shock and awe of his charming assault, which means that a switch will occur where Cal will advise Jacob on how to settle down. But none of that matters, not a single bit of it because Crazy, Stupid, Love. is all about the men embracing the love and support of other men. Jacob changes Cal into the man of his dreams and Cal goes along with it, in ways that he never would have if Emily had made such a proposal. Cal and Robbie inspire each other to chase their soulmates despite any and all obstacles. And, in that, it is fascinating to see that the women don’t really have much of a choice.
That’s the crazy thing about this movie. For all its seeming embrace of love and traditional relationship dynamics, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is just another bromance featuring yet another Steve Carell lead who finally crosses over into some semblance of conventionally enlightened adulthood. What’s not to love — or at least like — about that not-so-stupid notion? Grade: B-
Opens July 29. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.