Crazy, Stupid, Love. (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
You've seen it in a hundred different movies: A car pulls up, the camera clinging to a low angle on the bottom of its door. A foot emerges. And from the foot alone — sometimes the shoe, sometimes the incongruity of the shoe with the particular car — you get a shorthand about the character.
You've learned all you need to know about this person in one shot, but also a lot about the movie: It's going to be the kind of movie that uses clichés like the "character-defining shoe."
Crazy, Stupid, Love. opens with a slightly more interesting variation on the theme, with directors Glenn Ficara and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris) skimming under the table at a classy restaurant and coming to rest on the New Balance sneakers of Cal Weaver (Steve Carell). For the next two hours, the film offers up a terrific cast and some genuinely funny moments, but its inability to find real greatness can be encapsulated by that one scene — an attempt at sophistication that's too often undercut by sitcom simplicity.
The dinner that Cal is sharing with his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), is destined to end badly, as she both confesses to having an affair and asks Cal for a divorce. Cal's subsequent self-pity sessions in a local bar catch the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a confident ladies' man who takes on Cal as his personal Pygmalion project in creating a player.
But Jacob is destined to find one girl, Hannah (Emma Stone), who gets under his smooth façade. And meanwhile, Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is nursing an unrequited crush on the family's 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) — who happens to be nursing a crush on Cal.
That's a lot of plot to juggle, but the cast is terrific enough that it's rare to find any given narrative thread inspiring impatient toe-tapping. The best stuff comes from Stone and Gosling, but Carell and Moore share their own bittersweet scenes effectively, and even the teenagers bring poignant awkwardness to their longing.
With so many talented people getting so many great punch lines, there's really only one problem with CSL: It's a movie ostensibly about genuine heartbreak that keeps acting like it should have a laugh track. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman is a veteran of solid animated films like Cars and Tangled, but his script here feels like the work of someone who thinks a wackier gag must be a better gag.
Robbie gets caught masturbating by Jessica; Cal interrupts a middle-school graduation ceremony to deliver his big heartfelt speech. When plot lines intersect, it's generally with the kind of crazy coincidences that inspire plenty of frantic flailing and not much authentic humanity.
Requa and Ficarra do help bring some style and emotion to the stronger bits of Fogelman's script, getting the most out of quieter moments between characters and creating a slick montage sequence in which the newly pimped-out Cal successfully applies his new lady-killing techniques at his favorite bar. But even there, the film reveals a flaw, as it never seems plausible that a successful womanizer would go to the same place nightly and risk bumping into the previous conquests.
There are too many funny people doing too many funny things to be too disappointed in CSL, but it could have added up to something more than jokes. The people could've been more than their shoes.