So we sympathize with Cal -- even if he is slutting himself all over town -- because we know he wasn't always like this. In fact, before his bid to become a bigger village bicycle than Wilt Chamberlain, he had only been with one woman, Emily (Julianne Moore), his wife of twenty-five years -- the gal who, in the opening scene, drops a humdinger of a divorce on him in the middle of ordering dessert. Lost and heartbroken, Cal makes his way to a local single's bar where his sulky, drunken ramblings catch the attention of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). Palmer's that well-dressed, effortlessly charming Casanova that only exists in the movies and Gosling plays the part with a Jersey Shore cadence and wannabe-gangster flippancy that makes the character an irresistible demigod of old-fashioned womanizing. He takes Cal under his wing and gives him a tutorial in the art of lady killing -- starting with new threads, then onto foolproof pickup lines and, finally, sealing the deal.
Has Cal lost his romantic spirit or is he merely misguided? More than anything he needs to realize that giving up the marital fight was his biggest mistake all along. And Carell plays Cal with the same no-one-can-help-him-till-he-helps-himself character arc of "The Forty-Year-Old Virgin". Under the direction of Ficarra and Requa -- guys who turned Jim Carrey clownishness into heartfelt poignancy once before -- the comedian is impressive. With tinges of "Dan, In Real Life" melancholy and "Date Night" deadpan, Carell turns in the funny and emotional performance necessary to hold the center of a story that shoehorns in several meandering subplots: Emma Stone (who's everywhere) plays a prudish, young-professional who falls under Jacob Palmer's spell (or does he fall under hers?); Emily mixes it up with co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon); and, somehow, there's room for a daddy fetishizing babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) and her infatuated young charge, Cal's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), to represent love's innocent beginnings and its cruel non-return policy.
Incredibly, screenwriter Dan Fogelman finds a way to give his story inevitable unity with plot turns and coincidences worthy of Dickens. But, for me, what keeps "Crazy, Stupid, Love" from being more than a good romantic comedy is a mumblecore pedigree (Hello! Julianne Moore, and Marissa Tomei in a brief but hysterical appearance) that, intentionally or not, promises stronger characterizations and deeper themes than: True Love Exists. Sweet? Yes. Insightful? Hardly. You can get that same message from "Sleeping Beauty". Still, there are worse ways to spend a couple hours than with this funny ensemble of romantics who believe that, yes, true love exists and it is worth fighting for -- wow, that's not so crazy and stupid after all.