‘Crazy Stupid Love’: When characters are difficult to like

It’s hard to root for anyone in “Crazy Stupid Love,” which features several romances, instances of unrequited love, and break-ups.

From watching the trailer, you’d think the film follows Steve Carell’s broken marriage and Ryan Gosling’s budding romance with Emma Stone, but as noted by College Fix editor Katherine Miller, the commercials exaggerate the younger couple’s plot:

“[H]alf of it really drags and the ads deceive you into expecting a movie half about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling romancing — it’s really only about 20 cumulative minutes.”

The film is primarily centered on Cal (Steve Carell), who walks away from his union to Emily (Julianne Moore) after she confesses to sleeping with a co-worker because the marriage has lost its spark. “CSL” seems to want you to think that Cal is at fault for this because he stopped striving for a fairy tale romance. The couple’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is upset by his parents’ situation but becomes so fixated on 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) that his mom and dad’s divorce hasn’t destroyed his spirits. Robbie continues to force himself on Jessica, who has a questionable crush of her own. The young brunette wants to end up with Cal, and it’s unclear whether this relationship would be creepier than that of Robbie and Jessica. I’m not ruining the movie by telling you that nothing ever comes out of these two wildly inappropriate teen wishes.

To deal with heartbreak, Cal flocks to the bar, where he rambles publicly about his floozy wife. Frustrated that Cal’s pity party has brought down the mood of the swanky bar, young Jacob (Ryan Gosling) tells cuckolded Cal to quit playing the victim and get some self esteem. According to womanizer Jacob, who hooks up with a new girl every night, Cal is responsible for his wife’s infidelity. Cal apparently lost his manhood in 1984, before his days of slouching in over-sized suits and sporting “Supercuts hair cuts.” When pretty boy Jacob takes Cal to the mall, you wonder why a gorgeous bachelor would do this for a defeated 44-year-old man. We later learn that Jacob’s home life probably influenced this decision, but it’s still hard to believe that someone as selfish, shallow, and arrogant as Jacob would take a desperate father under his wing.

Then there’s Hannah (Emma Stone), an aspiring lawyer who finds Jacob’s pick-up lines cheesy and insincere. At the beginning of “CSL,” Jacob unsuccessfully attempts to take Hannah home, but she ends up leaving the bar early in disgust. Besides, she has a dorky lawyer boyfriend to think about. In any other production, it’s easy to fall for Stone’s charm, which sadly doesn’t come through in “CSL.” Her character throws a tantrum in a restaurant when her significant other doesn’t ask her to marry him. Instead of popping the question, her boyfriend asks if she’d like to work at his law firm. Apparently a ring would have been much better security than financial independence. Insulted, Hannah rips him a new one and rushes back to the bar, where she intends to find Jacob for revenge sex. If the audience actually knew anything about Hannah’s relationship with this guy, maybe I’d understand her disappointment, but “CSL” spends no time on their background, so how can I comprehend or sympathize with her pent-up rage? I wanted to like Hannah but couldn’t get past her wedding hissy fit. It’s incredibly spoiled to treat a guy like that for not begging for your hand in marriage, especially if you never really loved him all that much. Aside from his career accomplishments, Hannah’s man doesn’t seem like much of a winner.

With that, Hannah uses Jacob as a rebound, plants an aggressive kiss on his mouth, and orders him to take her back to his place. I was pleasantly surprised by what takes place at his apartment and actually had hope for these two, even though Hannah becomes more nit picky, obsessed with Gosling’s perfectly engineered abs, and obnoxious by the minute.

Because of Hannah, Jacob retires his Casanova tendencies and actually wants to have a girlfriend. By this point, he has corrupted Cal, who begins hooking up with random women and ruining his chances at getting Emily back. There are several times in the film where you think they will reconcile, but something negative quickly follows and lowers the probability of this happening. I didn’t even want them to become a couple again, as Emily betrayed her husband, but I hoped Cal would learn to feel more comfortable in his skin.

The teen romances are a good break from the annoying adults. My favorite character is Jessica, a naive high school senior who is infatuated with Cal and determined to be with him. You’re relieved nothing happens with these two, but her innocence is endearing, and you know she’s just going to laugh about this silly crush in several months when she heads off to Stanford. She’ll fall for a guy her own age and have a hysterical story to tell about her DILF fantasies. You get the feeling that she’s going places, but you’re not totally sure about the other folks.

You’re also amused while Robbie tirelessly pursues Jessica, who has no clue how to explain to the young junior high school student that she longs for his dad. He puts on a public demonstration at her school to win her over, repeatedly says he masturbates to her, and begs her to consider dating him. Robbie will be able to laugh about this unusual story someday, and you hope his romantic ways will work out in his favor as he ages and grows into his figure.

With the exception of Cal, the children are the only redeeming characters in “CSL.” You’re relieved to see Jacob seek a healthy relationship but hesitant to believe he’ll remain faithful to Hannah for long. She’s a pain for being so demanding. Though she regrets messing around on her husband, Emily isn’t exactly trustworthy. Cal and Emily are drastically different people by the end of “CSL,” so it’s unclear whether they’d even still work well together.

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5 thoughts on “‘Crazy Stupid Love’: When characters are difficult to like

  1. Really thoughtful review, but I had a different interpretation on a few things:

    –Cal didn’t quite bemoan his floozy wife at the bar so much as rip on Kevin Bacon’s character for cuckholding him.

    –I didn’t get the sense Emma Stone’s character was so much upset that lawyer guy didn’t propose, as much as his admission that he didn’t take their relationship very seriously. (one could argue Stone’s character being unaware of this ‘was’ remarkably ignorant)

    –Jacob mentoring Cal was a stretch, but I think it ties together later on when you learn his womanizing is really a cover for his unhappiness, which he confesses to Emma on their ‘date’. He even starts to say so at the bar, before cutting himself off, that he realized he wanted to be more like Cal, have a family like he never had.

    –I ‘loved’ Jacob and Hanna’s ‘date’, how it went against the stereotype of most rom-coms. None of the other girls Jacob brought home cared who he was, but Emma asks questions that cut through his armor. That’s why I bought their romance–he’d finally met a girl that wanted more than a simple bang, and it lowered his defenses.

    –Robbie definitely got a little creepy at times, and the ending was ‘way’ too Hollywood with Cal’s speech. I didn’t think the movie made Cal out to blame for his wife’s infidelities, but blamed his later decision to hit the town rather than fight for the marriage. I also liked that they didn’t make Kevin Bacon’s character out to be a stereotypical movie douchebag–he seems to actually care for Julianne Moore and wants to get to know her kids. He’s interested in far more than a one night stand.

    –I agree that this movie is about flawed characters, but that’s what I liked about it. It was promoted as a typical romantic comedy, but aside from a few fleeting moments it’s not all that romantic, but it was funny.

  2. Jason:

    Great input. Thanks for helping me take a closer look at the characters. Here are my responses to your specific points:

    -It was easier for Cal to blame David than Emily, but she still cheated nonetheless. It takes two to tango. Regardless, it must be said that Cal’s ego was bruised.
    -Hannah was definitely upset that her boyfriend didn’t take their relationship seriously, but as we quickly learn, they weren’t right for each other anyway, so he did her a favor by not popping the question.
    -I actually wish the family had furthered the relationship between Cal and Jacob, who clearly missed his own pushover father. I would have liked to see more from these two as friends.
    -The “date” was hysterical, even though Hannah borders on belligerent. It’s a relief to see she’s not solely out for sex as she initially states. They’re a good couple even though it’s hard to believe Jacob would make a 180 like that.
    -Robbie pushes the envelope, and the graduation speech undoubtedly ruins the ceremony. I agree about Bacon’s character. He seemed young and inexperienced, so it’s likely that his character ended up disappointed that there was no chance his relationship would pan out with Emily. We dislike some of Cal’s decisions, so he’s not always the hero here.
    -The movie had its moments. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like the party scene before!

  3. This is the most I’ve analyzed a movie in ages. Not counting how much Cowboys & Aliens disappointed me…

    –Cal’s ego was definitely bruised, but what hurt as much was his friends turning their backs on him (which does happen in real life–when a couple splits, their mutual friends are pretty much forced to take sides).

    –What worked about the Hannah situation was her friend who kept encouraging her to hook up with Jacob from the beginning, she was much more of the mindset to have fun and fool around. So when Hannah’s relationship evaporates, she realizes that maybe her friend was right, which is why she rushes to Jacob. But she stays true to herself and doesn’t sleep with him, which was refreshing and different than most rom-coms.

    –Agreed about Jacob/Cal. And it would have been better to see a little more of Jacob’s transformation, but my guess is that the movie was already running long.

    –Loved the ‘date’, both Hannah’s reactions, and her turning the tables by recognizing that Jacob has a whole ‘game’ set up for each girl (the drinks, the Dirty Dancing move), and that she makes Jacob realize how ridiculous the whole thing is.

    –I liked that Cal wasn’t the hero, that it wasn’t so clearcut as his wife is evil, he is good. She cheated, which is clearly the greatest sin, but it’s clear their marriage was suffering and Cal was oblivious to it.

    –The party scene was hilarious, even if a bit contrived, but finding out that Hannah was Nanna was surprising, and showed that even though Cal might have wanted to learn from Jacob, he didn’t respect him.

    –The notion that you can find your soulmate, but despite that possibly lose them, was a little more realistic than most movies. Not everyone walks away happily into the sunset, which is why this wasn’t quite standard romcom fare. People had real flaws, not the usual romcom flaws which are usually one-dimensional like ‘he’s a douchebag’ or ‘she just needs a makeover to find her inner beauty’.

    1. I haven’t thought so much about a specific movie in years, either. There’s plenty to talk about with this one.

      -I regret that I failed to mention his friends turning on him. I’m lucky youth has spared me this experience. They kicked Cal while he was down. I only wish the mother could have explained her rationale behind siding with Emily, although the lady seemed like kind of a busybody, so her narrow-minded choice wasn’t all that surprising.
      -The movie was too long. Cal and Jacob’s dynamic is another movie altogether.
      -The “date” was great and much more interesting than you’d expect. I wish more “dates” turned out like that.
      -I fear I was too harsh on the wife, as cheating is fairly common in marriage. She seemed to genuinely regret what she did, so hopefully her character wouldn’t slip into temptation again should she get back together with her husband (the ending is ambiguous, no?)
      -I want to re-watch the movie to piece together all the Nanna tidbits. Cal was a hypocrite to try to emulate Jacob yet call such people “low lives.” Maybe that was when Cal fully realized he’d been behaving like a jerk.
      -I hope everyone walked away happy in the movie. I was under the impression that everything would work out overtime, although I was more hopeful for Hannah and Jacob than Cal and Emily.

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