Crazy, smart, likable

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Sorry, guys. It’s too late to take classes. You’ll have to wing it.

Sorry, guys. It’s too late to take classes. You’ll have to wing it.

Rated 4.0

Crazy, Stupid, Love is the kind of movie that could end up giving romantic comedies a good name—or at least partly redeeming the genre from the debased currency it’s become after too many movies like When in Rome, Love and Other Drugs and The Proposal. It’s almost as if the term “rom-com” came into use as a euphemism, to gloss over the fact that a particular movie is neither truly funny nor genuinely romantic. Crazy, Stupid, Love is both.

If you’ve seen the movie’s preview trailer, you’ve been suckered by a clever act of deliberate misdirection. People frequently complain about trailers that they give away the whole story of a movie, as if it were a silly mistake. Actually, it’s a conscious strategy, a way of reassuring the audience that the movie being hyped will have no surprises, no challenges; what you see is what you’ll get (only longer, with the highlights handed to you in advance).

The trailer for CSL plays on that. It lays out the movie’s situation in a way that makes us nod to ourselves, either in pleasure or in resignation. We know how this one is going to shake out.

Wrong. And the discovery of how wrong we are italicizes the surprises that are already there in the movie, makes them even more delicious. For once, everybody should see a movie’s trailer before seeing the movie itself. And the trailer for Crazy, Stupid, Love should be studied in film-school editing classes for years to come.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play Cal and Emily, 40-something marrieds with two kids at home, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Molly (Joey King), in the care of baby sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), as Cal and Emily have an evening out. In the car on the way home, Emily suddenly blurts out that she wants a divorce, that she has slept with another man, someone from work. Stunned, Cal opens the door and steps out of the car. While it’s moving.

Suddenly Cal, who married his high-school sweetheart and has never even considered any other life, finds himself thrust into the dating scene. Or rather, the bar scene, where he babbles into his drink about his wife and the guy she slept with. This draws the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a lounge lothario with a fail-safe line of let’s-get-out-of-here patter. Jacob takes Cal under his wing—more to quiet his maudlin mumblings than for any other reason—and begins molding him into a sharp-dressed, smooth-talking pickup artist after his own image. (One of Cal’s conquests is a kinky-repressed schoolteacher, played by Marisa Tomei in the kind of hilarious hit-and-run cameo she does so very well.)

Cal’s new look and style make him even more attractive to the 17-year-old Jessica, who already had a pretty strong crush on him. And Jessica in turn is being “crushed” by 13-year-old Robbie, who is convinced that he and Jessica are soul mates and that their age difference will vanish in just a few short years. Meanwhile, Emily begins to wonder about the wisdom of her sudden impulse, and whether the co-worker of her one-night stand (Kevin Bacon) is the guy for her after all. (Robbie doesn’t think so, and he says so to the guy’s face.)

Running parallel to this round robin of casual sex, broken hearts and puppy love is the story of Hannah (Emma Stone), a young attorney who, in the movie’s first scene, sees Jacob for the lady-killer he is and rebuffs him, then reconsiders when she realizes her safely bland boyfriend (Josh Groban) is too safe—and way too bland.

Dan Fogelman’s script weaves all these threads into a fugue on the multigenerational facets of love, from the ardent adolescent crush through the excitement of rapid-fire sex to the comfort of a good solid match—with its danger of complacency and boredom. A script and ensemble cast this good could almost direct themselves, but fortunately they don’t have to; the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa keep the pace sprightly, the tone light and the laughs coming.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is also a cleverly canny piece of marketing. No matter what your age or where you fall on the love-sex-romance spectrum, there’s a good chance you’ll see yourself (or somebody you know well) here somewhere.