For an actor who tends to wrap his lines in tightly clipped irony, and who from certain angles resembles Rowan Atkinson's handsome brother, Steve Carell has an unexpectedly sincere gift for playing men who have just had the hope pulled right out from under them. In the opening scene of Crazy, Stupid, Love, Cal Weaver (Carell), a fairly typical nice-guy suburbanite, dressed in rumpled Dockers and worn sneakers, learns that his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), has been having an affair and plans to divorce him. There was a period, long ago, when films like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) dealt head-on with the agony of busted marriage, and though Crazy, Stupid, Love is nothing more (or less) than an enchanting light comedy of romantic confusion, it has the bone-deep sadness that drove those films. It's a movie that understands love because it understands pain.
Cal starts to hang out at an elegant local pickup bar, where, after too many vodka cranberries, he launches into sloshed monologues of self-pity that are noisy enough to win the attention of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a lothario in frosty blond hair and three-piece suits. Out of some mixture of compassion and disgust (he can't believe how pathetic Cal is), Jacob decides to give this fortysomething loser a crash course in how to be a single guy again, which sounds like a very movie-ish situation, and is the same one, in fact, that powered Will Smith's Hitch. But Crazy, Stupid, Love, even when it takes off from a setup like this one, has a gentle observational shrewdness and an eye for detail that makes it a terrifically amusing study in contemporary behavior.
Carell gives a ruefully funny and lived-in performance as the once-cozy husband and father of three who has lost any vestige of his alpha-male instinct. When Gosling, as the bar stud Henry Higgins, takes Carell for a makeover (his look and his personality), he does it with a dry contempt that is drolly cutting. Cal becomes an avid student in the rather depressing art of treating sexual banter as a manipulative science. It begins to work for him, but that's only the film's first act.
The movie is also about Cal and Emily's floppy-haired 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who has a frighteningly intense crush on the family babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), who has a secret crush of her own. It's about Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student trying to run her romantic life in as controlled a fashion as her career, and what happens when she meets Jacob. It's about Emily's relationship with the cocky accountant (Kevin Bacon) who broke up her marriage, Cal's fling with a flighty teacher (Marisa Tomei), and the feelings Cal and Emily still have for each other. Crazy, Stupid, Love was written by Dan Fogelman (who has coscripted animated films like Cars and Bolt, as well as Fred Claus) and directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris), and I'm happy to report that they have made the single best mainstream movie for adults this summer. Tart and funny, sweetly melancholy and rooted in experience, Crazy, Stupid, Love is like a movie made by the Woody Allen of Hannah and Her Sisters if only he'd hailed from the suburbs.
The picture is full of moments to savor, whether it's Jacob telling the schlubby Cal to ''be better than the Gap,'' or Cal and Emily reuniting for a parent-teacher conference (the scene all but vibrates with the years they've shared together), or Hannah and Jacob's touching postcoital murmurings, or the Big Romantic Speech at the end a conventional moment, to be sure, except that the hard-won, battle-weary affection of Cal's words left me in tears. One of the movie's motifs is Cal's decades-old line about Emily: ''She's the perfect combination of sexy and cute.'' Crazy, Stupid, Love is the perfect combination of sexy, cute, wise, hilarious, and true. A