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?