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Crazy, Stupid, Love – aka “the movie featuring Ryan Gosling shirtless” aka “the movie that everyone said would make Emma Stone a big star” aka “the movie that is supposed to be the antidote to all the big studio crap this summer” aka “the movie we’re hoping is ‘THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT’ of this year (but, you know, funnier)” aka “the movie I’ve been dying (DYING) to see” is all of the things I listed above but also not exactly what you think it would be.

Watching the previews (and say what you will, we all watch the previews) one would be inclined to expect a rom-com of sorts with a bad thing that happens at the start (yes, your wife of 25 years cheats on you by someone named David Lindhagen and tell you all about it over dessert, in public, like you’re some random three month relationship she needs to break up in public, to avoid a scene) but that’s just supposed to be a kick-off to a frolicky ride in the vein of, say, “HITCH” but with a better cast, right? Yep, that’s what the previews would lead you to believe…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eK68Y3oMEk8

The reality, as is often the case in real life, is much more painful and complicated. I think it is only fair that I at least warn you that even after that initial heartbreak there WILL BE more (heartbreaks and awkward silences (and tantrums)) ahead.

Steve Carrell’s Cal sits neatly and stoically in the middle of this mess we call (love) life. He had it made: a great wife (“perfect combination of sexy and cute”), great kids, good job, good friends, a babysitter that is completely trustworthy, and all the comfortable footwear a man can need in his life. And what is he supposed to do, then, when the life he lived for 25 years goes away? People lose their minds over much less, let me tell you. All of a sudden, with all the things he used to help define himself (traditional fatherhood, husband-dom, coupled up friendship) is taken away, he is left, at the age when, frankly, the only decisions he hoped he’d have to make are what dessert he’s in the mood for, to re-invent himself. Which is a scary premise, always, no matter what the age or state of heart. Once you understand that, you will be a lot more at ease with the (pretty sane and intelligent, and at times genuinely funny) movie in front of you.

Helping him along the way is Ryan Gosling’s Jacob, whose approach to life and lust is slicker than his perfectly bryl-creamed head and who, much like most really slick-on-the-surface people, is in desperate need and want of re-invention himself. Gosling and Carrell, against all odds, make a great couple and it is their relationship that is at the center of the movie (the ladies, all of whom are wonderful, are underused as anything more than vehicles for expressing the emotions the men in the movie feel) and the two actors pull it off great, playing off each other with gusto and great timing . Gosling, shirt on or off is probably the only young actor in Hollywood that could have pulled the role of Jacob off-that combo of effortless cool and good looks with a heart underneath doesn’t come around often.

The script (by Dan Fogelman formerly of such deep emotional dramas such as “BOLT” and “CARS”) does meander a little (though most of the excursions are worth it) and with a LOT of great actors on hand (the supporting cast includes Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon among others) the directing duo of Glen Ficarra and John Requa do seem a little bit like children in a candy store (“Lets have Marisa really go at it with this meltdown”, “Oooooooh, Julianne is such a good crier, lets throw some more of that in”, “I love what Emma does with those big green eyes, lets have her open them wider”, “Shit, how much more shirtless Ryan can we squeeze in without it seeming exploitative?” (exploit away guys, exploit away)). Overall the movie (which, as you can see is a little less “HITCH” and a little more “SPANGLISH” crossed with “DAN IN REAL LIFE”, two movies I do feel have been sorely under-rated) is like a lovely dinner party with some of the best guests you’d hope to spend time with, thoroughly worth your time, and probably even a re-visit.

Oh yeah, and don’t worry, I didn’t forget:

(you’re welcome)

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