Looking to Hollywood for marriage or relationship advice is about as foolish a task as you could possibly undertake. On the other hand, Hollywood productions often provide interesting avenues through which to check the pop cultural pulse on both. Similar films like No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits take one approach to which many viewers might relate…or wish they could. The most recent star-studded rom-com, Crazy, Stupid, Love embraces an element of those (casual sex) but attempts to take the conversation up a notch with the main part of its narrative focusing on a crumbling marriage. But does it work?
Crazy, Stupid, Love involves a myriad of relationships but centers on three. As the film opens, we learn that Emily (Julianne Moore) wants to divorce her husband Cal (Steve Carell). The two married right out of high school, had three children (now a twenty-something, a teenager, and an eight (?) year old). They’ve apparently grown lazy in their relationship…at least if Cal’s footwear is any indication (more on this in a moment). When Cal frequents a local watering hole (breeding ground) to drown his sorrows, he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a twenty-something trust-funded Don Juan who takes a different woman home each night…until he bumps into “the one,” Hannah (Emma Stone). As the film progresses, the two begin to switch places: Cal becomes the ladies’ man while Jacob settles into a life of monogamy. Yet despite his new wardrobe and success with women, Cal can’t stop thinking about Emily and he makes several attempts to “win” her back. The final “relationship” features Emily and Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) who has fallen in love with his baby-sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is, in turn, secretly in love with Cal.
The film is funny. Carell nails the jilted-husband-who-can’t-quite-stay-angry while Gosling holds his comedic own opposite his co-star. Writer Dan Fogelman and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa do a good job of staging some surprising twists (I won’t spoil those) and one great fight scene. But there’s not much more here…nothing insightful at all about relationships, love or marriage. Much of this has to do with the way the film treats Cal and Emily. We don’t know what really went wrong between the couple to make Emily want to cheat on and ultimately divorce Cal. There’s the implication that Cal became “lazy” in their relationship, and, as a result, all the problems of their failed marriage seem to be cast at his feet, which he willingly accepts. Of course, as anyone in a long-lasting relationship can tell you, it takes two to grow apart.
The way in which the filmmakers treat Cal, and by extension the rest of the characters, is problematic as well. The film opens with an obsession with shoes, which then gives way to an obsession with clothes and outward appearance. The film more than implies that if you’re not wearing the nicest looking or most expensive pair of shoes or jeans (not to mention shirt, sweater, and jacket) then you’re not trying…or aren’t worth being given a shot. The filmmakers try to undermine this by revealing that Jacob is essentially emotionally (and spiritually?) empty. As a result, his consumption of both goods and women is an attempt to fill this void. Yet when he comes to the realization that he can’t buy happiness, he certainly hopes he can at least marry or date it. Nevertheless, his spit-polished exterior is a defining characteristic even after he meets his “soulmate.”
Which brings me to another problem with Crazy, Stupid, Love. Cal and Robbie both believe in the existence of a soulmate. Though she wants out, Cal still believes Emily is his soulmate, and even though Jessica wants nothing to do with him, Robbie just knows she’s his. Jacob frequently refers to Hannah as the one. We can of course forgive Robbie his youthful, romantic exuberance, but Jacob and Cal fail to realize that this notion of a soulmate is both misguided and potentially dangerous. That soulmates (that is the idea that there is only one person for each of us who will ultimately fulfill our lives) do not exist should be a given. That Cal believes Emily is his soulmate has lulled him, we can assume, into a sense of security and possibly lead to Emily’s feelings of alienation. Jacob finds Hannah and is convinced that she is the one who will bring him true happiness that all the other “stuff” in his life failed to provide. Yet it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see Emily and Cal as a vision of Hannah and Jacob’s future. Neither Emily nor Cal seem to be fulfilled in their professional lives, which can only spell trouble at home as, perhaps, they look to one another to fill needs that are simply not part of the marital job description. At the risk of sounding like an old-school, hardcore conservative, characters like Cal, Emily, and Jacob will go on searching throughout their lives for wholeness that can only be found by living their lives beyond themselves…which is more complex than simply saying, “They need Jesus,” or “They need to go to church.”
On the other hand, along with its humor, the film does benefit from some playful honesty regarding teenage sexuality, particularly between Robbie and Jessica and Jessica and Cal. There’s a bit involving nude photos that’s relatively harmless, but I found the audience’s reaction to them to be quite interesting. You’ll see what I mean if you go see it. Robbie’s pursuit of Jessica is sweet but kind of heart-breaking too. Thank God I never have to be 13 again…unless I’ve missed the boat on the whole re-incarnation thing.
In the end Crazy, Stupid, Love only shows us what most of us probably already know. Money can’t buy happiness or love, and relationships are hard work…damn hard. At the same time, relationships must be about much, much more than the two people involved and, even if there are any involved, their children. If the love between two people (or a family) doesn’t reach outside of that relationship and into the world around it then it remains, well, just crazy stupid.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (118 mins.) is rated PG-13 for coarse humor, sexual content, and language and is in theaters everywhere.