Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Don’t be yourself: good advice for most Hollywood directors

Crazy, Stupid, Love is Ficarra/Requa’s new feature-length RomCom concerning the romantic escapades of several good people.  Kevin Bacon’s in it, too.

The film is the big debut of Steve Carell after his dramatic exeunt from The Office, and as usual, he plays a likable, hapless man with zero luck and the best intentions.  Carell’s character, Cal Weaver, leaps out of a moving car after his wife, Emily (the lovely-as-ever Julianne Moore) declares her desire to get divorced.  Simultaneously, Cal’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), thirteen years old, declares his love for his babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), four years his senior, who rejects Robbie’s advances in surprise and disgust.  Cal begins spending time at a local bar – which looks more like a high-end casino than any bar I’ve ever seen – and has a chance meeting with Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a wealthy, well-dressed womanizer who promises to teach Cal the tricks of the trade in order to help win Emily back.  The only woman Jacob hasn’t been able to rustle is Hannah (Emma Stone), who can’t stand his pickup lines, doesn’t find him attractive, and already has a boyfriend (Josh Groban).  With one thing and another, these respective parties inevitably cross paths in several hysterical, clever, and sometimes downright touching ways.

I have to respect the writer/director(s) for just that: having respect for the audience.  In a day and age where filmmakers feel they need to spoon-feed every thread of story information to the iPhone-obsessed ADD public, here’s a film which introduces several characters, apparently not connected in any way, right at the outset of the story, and leaves it to the viewer to remember who each character is without constantly repeating information and retreading tired plot points.  I wish this method of telling a story as though telling it to someone older than five wasn’t such a lost art form in films these days.

The performances are solid through and through.  The actors avoid playing characters who are expecting a clean-cut happy ending.  The film even features appearances from Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon, the latter of whom plays David Lindhagen, the many-times-named accountant who steals Emily from Cal, and he does a good job of playing the character as a real person and not a generic sleazeball whose only mission is to spite the protagonist (the Spiteful Sleaze, as seen in so many easy plot formulas for this type of film).

The character growth is genuine, albeit achieved through preposterous circumstances which could only occur in film.  Conversations are interrupted at near-miraculous times, but they’re always finished later.  In addition, the film’s single plot twist is well-executed and unexpected (yet inevitable when you think about it in retrospect, which to me is the best kind of twist, if we need one at all).  The filmmakers shoot for an uplifting ending (because it’s a date movie) and achieve much more, because their respect for their audience never wanes.  Not everyone gets the girl (or guy), there’s no moral lesson, and the dynamics of a somewhat dysfunctional family are left fully intact even when optimism wins out.

Go figure.  A RomCom which achieves both parts of its name, as well as being an engaging family drama.  Characters are made to say difficult things to the people they care about, the title is never blurted out, and there’s barely an ounce of the crude humor that seems so par-for-the-course with any type of comedy nowadays.

There’s also a great big editing error featuring Emma Stone’s legs.  Happy hunting.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.; written by Dan Fogelman; directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa; starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. 

 

Tangled

Let the cash-cow shine

With The Princess And the Frog, the Disney company did an arguably successful recall to the classic animated musicals many of us watched a million times as children. Most of these, as we know, are Disney’s version of popular European fairy-tales or, quite often, the “Disney-fying” of historical material.  Their latest effort, Tangled, feels like a Disney classic with CG coating.

Tangled is a reimagining of Rapunzel, a fairy-tale first penned by the Brothers Grimm (which is itself an adaptation of Mademoiselle de La Force’s Persinette), in which a young girl with enchanted hair is taken at birth by a witch, Dame Gothel, from her parents, and sealed in a tower.  The girl is eventually discovered by a prince, who proposes to her, and despite Dame Gothel’s efforts, the two escape and live happily ever after.

Rapunzel is perfect Disney fodder.  Dame Gothel, given the German name of “Mother Gothel” and played by Donna Murphy, provides all the allegory we need for a film like this.  She is the overprotective parent.  She encourages Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) to “let down her hair,” but only as far as this will serve Gothel’s needs, and never lets Rapunzel leave the tower.  Rapunzel herself is a character I admit to being surprised at: ever barefoot (a purity/innocence motif) and classically “rebellious” but also fun to spend time with.  Her voice is never shrill, ignorant or unwelcome, and her transformation from blonde to brunette in the end is a bit of a switch for Disney.  Trying to make up for ages of hair-ism, perhaps?  (Though you can’t entirely blame Disney; the Brothers Grimm were committing these acts of atrocity toward women with “imperfect” appearances long before the dawn of film).

The new characters, including Prince Eugene (Zachary Levi), secondary villains the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), and a singing thug with a hook (Brad Garrett), provide the necessary cast backbone to make the story not only a successful fairy-tale, but also a watchable and engaging adventure.

Music-wise, the film more or less delivers.  A few of the songs radiate the obnoxious teenie-bop and hip-hop vibe which will be eaten up by kids who are currently the age I was when The Lion King was released, but the “Healing Song” Rapunzel repeats until we memorize it and “Mother Knows Best,” the vintage Disney bad-guy-bolero, are thoughtfully composed.

As of January 1, 2011, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, and is, appropriately, a better film than the one just above it on that list (though it was made by the same company).  It conveys a sense of “moral”  as do the Grimm fairy-tales and every Disney cartoon before it, but this “message,” if we can say one exists, seems to be aimed more at pre-parents than the children themselves.  I’m hoping the children, at least, can leave this film with a wide grin.

Tangled (2010); written by Dan Fogelman; directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard; starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy.

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