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It takes talent to make us love the schmuck. Steve Carell has this talent. He has made a career celebrating the middle-aged loser, the clueless boss with a heart of gold, and the boring but wonderful husband.
In Crazy, Stupid Love, Carell is Cal, a husband and father stunned by his wife's (Julianne Moore) affair and request for a divorce. Drowning his sorrows at a bar, he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a smooth ladies' man with the moves to take a different woman home every night.
Jacob conducts a reverse Eliza Doolittle makeover on Cal, turning him into an older, richer version of Jacob himself. Just as the transformation succeeds, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a woman who makes him rethink his love-'em-and-leave-'em lifestyle. Broken-hearted Cal, however, finds no solace in the arms of other women. His heart still beats for his wife.
It sounds like another raunchy sex comedy, but the film endorses fighting for married love through all the boredom, difficulty, and heartbreak of the middle-aged years. Cal's heartbreak permeates every scene, and Moore and Carell build chemistry to match younger actors. Their characters' love is special, not just for the sake of the children or the institution of marriage, but inherently beautiful in itself.
The film does have its problems. A story line involving Cal's son and the babysitter becomes increasingly creepy. The film implies scores of sexual situations and depicts more at its PG-13 rated level. And because the first two acts are beautifully acted, insightfully written, and sweetly funny, the preposterous and cliché-ridden final act comes as a huge disappointment. Madcap coincidences and an emotional speech in an unlikely situation ruin the tender tone the film worked so hard to achieve.
These weaknesses are unfortunate because we need more films that portray married love as wonderful, beautiful, and worth the struggle.