Review- Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.)

Crazy, Stupid, Love is for lack of a better word a film that isn’t receiving a lot of love but more important than that it is a film that breaks free of a few molds, works on a few levels and does so exceedingly well. It’s funny, heartfelt, dramatic and a truthful family story. It has pretty real and rounded characters that we meet in isolation and learn about more so when they interact.

Now I know that many of you are asking “Hey, isn’t this a RomCom and therefore sucky?” The answers to those questions are it’s not that easy and most definitely not. The problem with most romantic comedies is not just the formulaic nature but the lack of dimension, which they have. They too often tend to be all about the relationship and the obstacles two people face in trying to be with one another and reach that ultimate pinnacle. What separates a film like this is first it’s about its characters’ struggles and not a relationship but in each serious relationship it builds it does things a bit unconventionally and unexpectedly. The main relationship is a marriage of 20+ years that is falling apart, which is not your usual recipe for one of these films. Similarly, the secondary relationships don’t follow the typical patterns.

There’s also a lack of schmaltz, contrivance and other kinds of BS you’re usually saddled with in a film of this kind. I’d call this film the best of its kind since Love, Actually (In part because few make me want to see them and few are any good) but what this film does better than Love, Actually is it doesn’t need the pretense to tell several kinds of love stories, they’re all intertwined in much more organic way. I’m not sure it’s better than that but if it is we might be looking at perhaps going all the way back to French Kiss for something as good.

I could go on for quite a bit about the performances in this film, however, I will attempt to reach some semblance of balance. First, there’s Steve Carell, which brings to mind another apt comparison for this film is that this is kind of like what Dan in Real Life yearned to be, both in terms of his arc and performance but it just never got there. I’ve seen a lot of Steve Carell in the years since he left The Daily Show and this may just be his next great performance the only stronger being Little Miss Sunshine. Then, of course, you have his wonderful counterpart Julianne Moore, who is so consistently brilliant as of late it may be easy to overlook her contribution to this film.

Ryan Gosling has no simple task in this film either. He has to be equally convincing as the can’t-miss-womanizer and also a guy who lets his guard down and falls for the one girl who can crack through the facade. Similarly, Emma Stone has a deceptively simple job; she has to bring her comedic chops and feminine wiles to the same part so she needs to be equal parts sarcastic and smart and lovable. Her persona is infectious but as Zookeeper proves your aura does not guarantee the elevation of a film.

The third pairing features perhaps the most surprising turns. First, you have Jonah Bobo as Robbie. Bobo has been infrequently seen since his debut performance in Zathura. His character is refreshingly written in certain regards and very well interpreted. Bobo exudes an intellectual maturity and emotional naivete that are essential to this part. Conversely, Analeigh Tipton poignantly captures an essentially young girl with a woman’s desires and makes it a third strong combination.

This is a film, as the genre-related discussion above implies, is also a comedy, if not primarily, and it most definitely delivers in terms of laughs. There are laughs to be had in this film and in good quantity. Since I viewed it it’s already proven rather quotable but also it packs a wallop in terms of dramatic emotional content. This balance along with a sizable portion of it being funny is what places it head-and-shoulders above most films of its kind. This makes the film quite moving as well as funny in the end.

As if it was out to disprove many notions I typically find annoying this film also includes a twist which works to great effect and like a good one does it elevates the film and it’s helped by the fact that it’s not too close to the end and doesn’t have the whole film hinge on it.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is an old kind of film done in a more modern way. It takes some 21st Century notions and mixes it in with tried and true storytelling techniques that are executed here better than you’ll find in most films regardless of genre. Typically, the amount of value you get out of you admission price is not a barometer I use but this film makes itself worth the price of admission in many ways. It’s well worth it.


Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick A Country (Part 5 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Avassaladoras (Overwhelming Women)

Overwhelming Women (Fox Filmes do Brasil)

This is the kind of film that would be described in Brazil as “sugarwater,” sweet, simple and ultimately disposable lacking any depth or substance. Granted it does try and in the end it is an anti-romantic comedy in as much as our protagonist gets no one in the end. It is so singularly focused on her finding someone that it barely builds her or any other semblance of a subplot. It is very narrow-minded throughout.

The cast is decent. Caco Ciocler appears here as well and is hardly recognizable and extremely funny. It goes a little over the top at times but at least it is generally light but the resolution in the end is facile and its oncoming was buried. Though they were fine Giovanna Antonelli and Reynaldo Giannechini were underutilized here and their relationship, though understandable, was quite odd until they finally speak to one another.

It is likely this kind of film and the next that give Brazilian films a bad name in Brazil. It’s a genre film, the likes of which we’ve seen thousands of come out of the US so why bother when they can be just as bad coming from the States? Also the idea could likely be better executed on television and at least would be more acceptable light fare in that medium.

Review- Valentine’s Day

Taylor Swift and Jennifer Garner in Valentine's Day (New Line Cinema)

This is a re-post.

Valentine’s Day is decent, expendable funny, romantic fare that could have used some more judicious editing both before and after principal photography to make it a little better.

This is a film chock full of actors who have name recognition, such that several times leading up to and perhaps even during the movie, you are likely to forget one or two names who make up the all-star cast.
In a cast that features Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Kathy Bates, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley Maclaine, Emma Roberts and Julia Roberts to discuss every single individual performance would be redundant and pedantic. Overall the ensemble was good with the exception of Lopez and Alba who were milquetoast and easily replaceable and were seemingly only there for demographic-reaching purposes. If three standouts had to be picked they’d be a little surprising they’d likely be Shirley Maclaine, no surprise; she’s great, Jamie Foxx, it’s been a while since he’s been this funny and sang without taking himself too seriously and lastly, and surprisingly, Taylor Swift her portrayal of a goofy high school airhead was a very necessary antidote to a film full of plotlines where the sky was falling.

The two biggest issues with this film are the similarities in plotlines and the edit. If the film had ended up being tighter perhaps the former would not have been such an issue, however, considering the fact that there were so many couples and stories it’s amazing how many of them had to do with infidelity. There are as many relationship issues as there are people and to boil it all down to that is a little weak. Despite that the plot lines seemed interesting enough, after a certain point the movie doesn’t seem to move quickly enough. Jennifer Garner takes the longest car drive in the world; Biel and Foxx are obviously attracted to each other but they play cat-and-mouse; when Garner and Kutcher get together we see them awkward-talk twice before fixing their kiss. Oddly enough, despite her hilarious performance, and her music aiding the score and feel of the film, Taylor Swift’s character and her boyfriend weren’t completely necessary because they brought no conflict to the film.

Conversely, the film is sewn together by a perceived to be fictitious radio deejay named Romeo Midnight who epitomizes randomness. These voice-over snippets usually accompanied by random acts of Valentine’s Day and PDA’s that have no bearing on the story but just give us an interlude before resuming all the stories.

Even though the film isn’t as tight, or perhaps as interconnected as Love Actually, or as joyous, there are a few very good surprises in the proceedings. There are many, many laughs to be had and a few rare scenes that will tug at your heart strings.

It is a decent addressing of a day in need of a film and it also does the important task of establishing the actual origin of the day, which has been obscured in the Hallmark-ization of America. A good way to spend a few hours and a good date movie.