(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Jonah Bobo, Analeigh Tipton, Josh Groban, Joey King, Liza Lapira, Beth Littleford. Directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa
Love has a way of pulling a fast one on us. We go along thinking things are fine and suddenly BLAMO they’re not. At other times we are looking for anything other than love and suddenly we discover that it has moved in for a long stay.
Cal Weaver (Carell) is a middle aged man enjoying the fruits of his life. He has children who love him, a steady job that pays the bills and a wife who adores him. Okay, two out of three.
One night at dinner, his wife Emily (Moore) blurts out that she wants a divorce. Not only that, but she’s been sleeping with David Lindhagen (Bacon), a nebbish accountant who works with Emily. Cal is stunned into silence, an awkward vacuum that is filled with even more awkward conversation by Emily until Cal is so unnerved he throws himself out of a moving car.
Somewhat passively, Cal moves out into a bare, sparsely furnished apartment. He takes to hanging out at a local bar where he notices Jacob (Gosling), a handsome younger man who seems to have uncanny success with women in the bar. Jacob in turn notices the sad sack Cal who doesn’t mind acting the pathetic loser, telling all and sundry that he’s been cuckolded by his wife and her lover. Jacob decides to take pity on Cal and help get him back in touch with his manhood.
This of course requires a complete wardrobe change and new haircut, as well as lessons watching Jacob pick up women with lines I could never have pulled off with a straight face in a singles bar, although to be fair if I looked like Ryan Gosling I could spout off excerpts of “Pilgrim’s Progress” and still get lucky.
After some false starts, Cal begins to get successful at picking up women, using a certain amount of honesty on schoolteacher Kate (Tomei) to get her in his clutches.
In the meantime, Cal’s son Robbie (Bobo) has developed quite the crush on his babysitter Jessica (Tipton) who in turn has developed a very unhealthy fixation on Cal, who is close friends with her dad (Lynch) who has spinelessly sided with his bitchy wife (Littleford) in giving Cal the cold shoulder and supporting Emily, who needs it of course after having thrown her husband out because she cheated on him. What an animal he is!
Anyway Jacob finds himself falling for Hannah (Stone) who has just passed the bar, and I don’t mean the one Jacob hangs out in because she walked right into it and…well, if you like comedy in which everybody misinterprets what everyone else says at every possible turn, you don’t need any more cajoling from me.
The co-directors co-wrote the cult classic Bad Santa and this movie has a few of the subversive elements from that film. Unfortunately, those elements don’t really suit this film or this cast. Carell is best when cast as an everyman sort who has a bit of a heart of gold and means well but, well, things happen to him. While he made his bones in “The Office” as the clueless manager, he got some critical flack for this character not being more like Michael Scott which I find incomprehensible. That character would have been patently wrong for this role; part of what the movie is about is taking a mild-mannered, happily married man and attempt to turn him into something he isn’t.
Moore, one of the most respected actresses going today, gets to play a rather unsympathetic role and manages to make her sympathetic. She rises to the occasion and resists the temptation to make Emily bitchy so much as she is confused and desperate. She hooks up with David not so much out of lust or spite but because the safe harbor of her marriage has faded into the mists and she doesn’t know which way to turn to find that security.
Gosling doesn’t do a lot of comedies and this isn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from him at all – for one thing, he seems more comfortable in indie dramas than in big studio rom-coms but he seems to be all right with this one. It isn’t up to his usual standards but the performance is solid enough and if his comic timing isn’t up to the level of Carell’s, perhaps with some practice he’s a good enough actor to pull off comedy as well.
The thing that makes this movie seem a little bit on the unrealistic side is that there is almost no fighting, and no screaming whatsoever between Emily and Cal. This is the most civilized, low-key divorce EVER. Also the singles bar, which is apparently a local lounge is full of more gorgeous women than any other singles bar I’ve ever seen.
There is also a heck of a lot of raunchiness for a movie in which young teens and kids play such a pivotal role. Robbie is caught masturbating in the opening moments of the movie and Jessica takes some provocative picture for the man of her dreams. While there isn’t anything in here that would get the cops called, those who have zero tolerance for anything having to do with statutory rape might want to give this a wide berth.
Love never acts the way you want it to or even the way you predict it will. It’s never easy, never smooth and rarely responds the same way twice, even in the same relationship. There is some sweetness and charm here with an equally large dose of uncomfortable silences. It’s a solid enough comedy that is better than a lot of romantic comedies these days but even so it’s merely good, not great.
REASONS TO GO: Nice ensemble and Carell continues to impress as a leading man. Sweet nature
REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be raunchy or family-oriented.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the jokes are a little bit crude, there’s some sexuality and more than it’s fair share of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is singer Josh Groban’s film debut.
HOME OR THEATER: It makes a nice alternative if the big movies are crowded, but also it will work fine at home.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Solitary Man