As the scribes behind Bad Santa and the writer-directors of last year’s scabrous I Love You Phillip Morris, Requa and Ficarra are not filmmakers you’d expect to reinvent themselves as a two-headed Ron Howard. But Crazy, Stupid, Love is as doggedly eager to please as the filmmakers’ signature work has been fearlessly un-PC. Scripted not by the directors but by Disney animation writer Dan Fogelman, it’s a pleasingly symmetrical farce about the asymmetry of unrequited love. Its wittiest conceit is placing all the angst within six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Bacon plays a smarmy co-worker who’s just broken up the marriage of Emily (Moore) and Cal (Carell, at his most innocuous). Sulking in a bar, the sad-sack husband takes pick-up lessons from unflappable ladies’ man Jacob (Gosling), whose barbs seem designed as much to invigorate the movie as Cal. (‘I want to help you rediscover your manhood,’ the coach quips. ‘Do you have any idea where you lost it?’) Elsewhere, the separated couple’s son (Jonah Bobo) crushes on a babysitter (Analeigh Tipton, who’s going places). Stone, meanwhile, plays a young lawyer gradually charmed by Jacob’s aggression.
The latter duo’s eventual Dirty Dancing-inspired assignation gets the movie’s second biggest laugh. The roundelay comes full circle in uproarious fashion, only to dampen the mood by then having its lovelorn cogs break down and give actual speeches. Backstories are never filled out – the characters are about as vague as the title. Still, Requa and Ficarra have smoothed out the mise en scène along with their transgressive instincts, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Gosling deserves a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’, perhaps to be shared with Stone. They’re the only sharks swimming through the movie’s love streams, and they keep it moving until just before it dies. Ben Kenigsberg