Thursday, August 18, 2011

The commas can stay


It was less than three minutes into Crazy Stupid Love (henceforth known as Crazy, Stupid, Love) that I realized my anti-comma campaign was a losing battle.

Despite not being advertised with them in the print ads, commas are clearly part of the title when it comes on screen.

In fact, not only are there commas, but there's also a problematic period -- the kind that makes it difficult to include the title in the middle of a sentence without suggesting to your reader that you're coming to a full stop. If you want to get technical, I believe the title was also lower-cased, appearing as such:

crazy, stupid, love.

It was the same trick Good Night, and Good Luck. tried to pull on us. I don't include the period when talking about George Clooney's film (except here to illustrate its awkwardness), so I won't include it when talking about Glenn Ficarra & John Requa's film. (And it's going to take a long time for me to actually remember their names whenever I have to refer to them.) I won't give a variance on the capitalization, either -- I believe sex, lies and videotape is the only title I allow to be written in lower case on my watch.

But the commas can stay.

I guess. I mean, whether I like them or not, they do appear on screen.

And I think I'm going to need to learn Glenn Ficarra's and John Requa's names, because I sure the hell liked this film a lot. I thought there was a good chance I would, since several critics I respect have given it a glowing review. However, I nearly pre-sabotaged my screening when I made the curious decision to listen to a podcast in which it was discussed, just hours before I was scheduled to go. One of the co-hosts echoed the general love for Love, but one poo-pooed the movie. Not only that, but they discussed the movie in a level of detail that removed some surprises from the plot.

And I still loved it. Did I say I liked it a lot, or "sure the hell liked this film a lot?" Let's say "love," just as the title does.

I'll do you the favor of not going into too much detail, but what you've heard is true: It's kind of like the perfect romantic comedy. It's formulaic in quite a lot of ways, but formula can really work, if done correctly. There are some surprises, too, which of course I won't reveal here (one which the podcasters did not ruin either, to their credit). But at its core, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a pretty traditional romantic comedy. It just fires on all cylinders and gets great performances from its leads.

Such as Steve Carell, who has made at least as many films I don't like as films I do.

Such as Julianne Moore, who has not always been my favorite actress, but in the last five to seven years has come to be someone I really look forward to.

Such as Ryan Gosling, who was starting to take himself way too seriously (witness his twitchy, affected performance in Blue Valentine).

Such as Emma Stone, who I have already praised no less than 37 separate times on this blog.

Such as a pair of teenage actors -- Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton -- from whom you'll be hearing quite a lot more.

Such as Kevin Bacon, who is having quite the career resurgence this year.

Such as Marisa Tomei. The podcaster who had qualms about this film singled her out, yet I found her scenes to be funny, if a tad "big."

All I know is that I had a crazy stupid grin on my face when I left Crazy, Stupid, Love.

A grin that turned into a frown as soon I snuck into 30 Minutes or Less immediately afterward ... but I won't taint this post with that movie's particular wretchedness. A rant for another day ...

3 comments:

Travis McClain said...

My wife and I saw this last night. I won't lie: I'm not even remotely objective about this one. Part of me thinks if I stand back and look at it, the plot twists are predictable and several times the movie relies on fairly perfunctory, almost paint-by-numbers moments to advance the narrative.

None of that matters.

Just about every scene rang very true emotionally, and resonated very personally with me.

I responded very strongly to Robbie's subplot, for instance, as it reminded me strongly of an infatuation I had with a girl in middle school. I crashed and burned less dramatically than Robbie, but consider that I was the class geek/outcast (Robbie is his class salutatorian, so it's pretty likely he's well liked). And also, I had my experience in a small county in Kentucky in the early 90s. (You can amuse yourself at my expense in the following blog post: http://travismcclain.blogspot.com/2011/06/whats-in-rose.html )

I was never a ladies man, and while my marriage is rock solid, part of me wondered how I would fare in place of Cal. I couldn't do what he did; the makeover, the trolling for girls. There's no way I could even imagine letting someone as smooth as Jacob become a hound dog mentor. Previous coworkers thought they would take it on themselves to tutor me in the art of being a playboy and I was too self-conscious to let them try. It just felt hollow and shallow and entirely wrong for me.

There is a scene where Cal and Robbie play catch, discussing their situations. That scene for me was absolute perfection. It's the kind of thing I like to believe I would write, if I was talented enough to write movies. There's something therapeutic about catch. There's a rhythm and structure that I find comforting. Conversations during catch are unique; they have their own cadence, and the mind is less guarded because there's a baseball flying at you every few seconds. This allows for a specific kind of vulnerability that people don't always permit. If you look at the conversation Cal and Robbie have, it's not the kind of conversation that a father and son could have regularly without feeling awkward or forced. Yet, because they're playing catch, it feels natural.

Maybe the movie is not greater than the sum of its parts. That's okay, because the parts of crazy, stupid, love. (see what I did there?) are terrific. I found several parts quite funny. Sometimes I didn't laugh at all because I was too emotionally distracted by my investment in the characters. Sometimes I was the only one around me laughing, because someone said or did something that felt taken from my own autobiography.

I generally react to movies intellectually; I'm happy to follow along and explore the themes. It's much rarer that I respond emotionally; certainly not from start to finish, like I did with this film.

I tip my hat to the directors and cast, but foremost I praise screenwriter Dan Fogelman. This is the kind of movie that is clearly the product of a writer, drawing on life experiences. There is a singular voice guiding this story and it is Fogelman's. Check out his IMDb credits and it's even more impressive that he wrote this; among the few other credits are both Cars movies and Bolt, for instance. He absolutely killed with this one, though, and I'm eager to see what he writes next.

Vancetastic said...

Travis,

I'm glad you responded as positively to it as I did. It's one of those movies that restores your faith in Hollywood.

If I weren't prone to focusing on silly details, like the grammar of the title, I'd have liked to delve into a personal account like this. However, I don't know that the movie actually spoke to anything in my own life -- sure, I've loved older women, but none that I relentlessly threw myself at, and I've never undergone a makeover to pick up chicks. But I felt like these fairly standard ingredients were given such life by the cast and the writing that it felt personal to me, if only because good cinema offers us a certain truth that we understand even if we may not relate to the particular details of the story on a personal level.

One thing I enjoyed, though it could have just been Fogelman excusing some of the more formulaic elements he planned to include, was how Fogelman drew attention to the cliches even as he was employing them to their maximum effect. Sometimes I am distracted by things like this, but I liked the conversation Stone's and Gosling's characters had about what would happen in the PG-13 version of their story ... and then it's what actually ended up happening. But getting the cliche out there and talking about it made it kind of all the more sweet when it actually did happen. I mean, the characters don't sleep together on their first night together for a reason -- we, the audience, just don't like it. I also loved how Carell's character announced that it was a cliche when he was feeling horrible and it started raining. I think that's one of the times I laughed out loud when others were not -- a phenomenon you also experienced.

Thanks as always for the comment ...

Travis McClain said...

Excellent points about the cliches; I, too, laughed at the rain. It felt like a joke intended for the people like me in the audience who are sensitive to such plot gimmicks. So there's yet another level on which I found myself personally engaged by this movie.

Also, not that it matters, but my middle school crush was on a classmate, not an older woman.

What really astounds me is that I've said all this about the movie and have yet to even mention Emma Stone. My God, is she a breath of fresh air in modern cinema! I absolutely adore her. It almost took me out of the movie when Robbie had his Scarlet Letter breakdown, having seen Easy A recently. Now I'm adamant that someone needs to just make another Scarlet Letter adaptation starring Stone. You know, like how after Star Trek: First Contact Patrick Stewart made the TV movie Moby Dick.