Crazy, Stupid, Love


Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are schooled.

(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

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The Polar Express


THe Polar Express

All aboard the Polar Express!

(Columbia) Tom Hanks, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, Michael Jeter, Eddie Deezen, Charles Fleischer, Steven Tyler, Phil Fondacaro, Daryl Sabara. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

There comes a time in all our lives, it is said, that we must put aside childish things. That is the first step in becoming an adult. There are those who say that it is the first step in losing something irreplacable and vital, something that makes us better people.

Hero Boy (Hanks, voiced by Sabara) is at that time. He has begun to question his childhood faith in the existence of Santa Claus as fact after overwhelming fact begins to dispute that such a person ever existed. It is bedtime on Christmas Eve and he is listening intently for the bells of Santa’s sleigh, certain that he will never hear them.

Suddenly the room begins to rumble and shake then is filled with a great light. Startled, Hero Boy runs outside in his bathrobe to see a mighty train waiting there for him. A conductor (Hanks) cries “Alllllll aboooooooard” and after some hesitation, Hero Boy takes him up on it. This is, after all, the Polar Express, headed straight to the North Pole where one of the lucky children on board will be the recipient of the first present of Christmas, given to them by Santa himself.

On board is a Know It All (Deezen) and a quiet young Girl (Gaye), as well as a Lonely Boy (Scolari) who comes on board last and sits by himself in the last car. While a group of Dancing Waiters serve up piping hot chocolate to the kids in the passenger car, the Girl sets a cup aside for the Lonely Boy. As she and the Conductor take the steaming beverage back to the Lonely Boy, the Hero Boy notices that the Girl has left her unpunched ticket on her seat. As he steps outside to cross to the back car to give her the ticket, it flies out of his hand, apparently lost. The stern conductor orders the Girl to come with him.

The Hero Boy finds the ticket, which wasn’t lost after all, and runs to the back car to take it to her, fearful that she will be thrown off the train, but neither the conductor nor the Girl are there. The Lonely Boy tells him that they are on the top of the train headed toward the front. The Hero Boy decides to follow them and climbs to the top of the train. There, he meets the Hobo (Hanks) who questions the Hero Boy on his stance vis-à-vis the existence of Santa but nonetheless helps him reach the Engine car where he finds, to his surprise, the Girl driving the train while the engineers, Smoker and Steamer (both played by the late Michael Jeter, for whom this was his last movie before his death) changing a light bulb on the front of the train.

They brake just in time to avoid running into a gigantic herd of caribou, which brings the Conductor forward to scold them. The caribou are at length moved out of the way so the Express can continue on its way to the North Pole, but the train runs into some iced over tracks, barely able to navigate back onto the tracks while the ice cracks beneath them.

Eventually they reach the North Pole and the three friends manage to get lost in the vast city of Santa’s workshop, but they nevertheless make it to the town square just in time for the festivities to begin. But is there a Santa? What will it take for the Hero Boy to believe?

This was the first movie to be filmed entirely in motion capture technology (Zemeckis’ own Beowulf and Disney’s A Christmas Carol were also filmed in this way) and looks dazzling. While it is essentially an animated feature, the use of live actors to perform give the human and elf characters more life than a simple CGI feature can generate. It looks realistic, despite the fantasy setting.

Hanks gives a marvelous performance in multiple roles, including that of Santa and the Hero Boy’s father. Each character sounds, looks and acts differently as Hanks gives each its own unique look and facial expressions. It is compelling work.

The heart of the movie, however, is the story about the role of belief in our lives. Author Chris Van Allsburg has written a classic Christmas tale, perhaps the best since The Night Before Christmas or even since Dickens, and the story makes excellent cinema. I was completely entranced by the movie, even down to the songs (Josh Groban’s Believe is one of the best new Christmas songs of the last decade) which is unusual for me.

This is in every sense of the word a Christmas classic, one which I have no trouble watching every year at Christmas time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you definitely should. If you have, I hope you see it again – I discover something new about it every time I see it. That’s my definition of a classic.

WHY RENT THIS: This is the best Christmas movie to come along in 50 years. Believe is one of the better Christmas songs to come along the pike in ages. Hanks gives some terrific performances in multiple roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some find the story a bit treacly. The technology may soon become outdated as Avatar sets the bar higher but it was still ahead of its time when released.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The address called out by the Conductor near the end of the film of “11344 Edbrooke” is the address of director Zemeckis’ childhood home.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are some games and a clip of Josh Groban performing at the Greek Theater in the kid-centric DVD edition. The best feature is the one on author Chris Van Allsburg, who penned the children’s story this is based on. There is also a 3D edition (that comes with glasses) and a Blu-Ray edition that has more extra features than the DVD.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill concludes