So, I was riding down the elevator at the office with a colleague a few Mondays ago, and I asked what she thought of The Vow. I remembered she was all excited to see this title, which was released in theaters earlier this month. It has done very well, too, making it one of the highest box office titles for Sony’s Screen Gems division. All that said, my colleague got this scrunched up look on her face and said, “Oh, it was AWFUL! Just plain AWFUL – I can’t believe how bad it was…” Needless to say, I’ve had that feeling, you’ve had that feeling… It’s no kind of fun.
Which makes a title like Crazy, Stupid, Love all the more enjoyable. From the preview and the TV spots I caught last summer, I underestimated this one. Depending on the ad, they made it look like either a pure romance such as The Vow or Dear John, etc. or like a Will Ferrell-esque/over-the-top comedy. Regardless, this is a special film because it has a genuinely romantic storyline peppered with comedic scenes, which “stay in their lane.” I’ll explain what I mean.
I am going to gush and gush about the script here – fair warning. I loved how it jumped right into the action, but it did so VISUALLY. One of the opening shots is of feet under restaurant tables: bear with me here. There are feet belonging to fellows with nice, fashionable shows – and other feet donning impressive high heels. And several pairs of these feet are kind of cozying up to each other under these restaurant tables… it’s kind of a romantic shot, right? Then, we come to Julianne Moore – equally donning nice heels – and her husband played by Steve Carrell, dressed in his New Balance sneakers… What’s brilliant about this scene is that we visually know the problem before a word of dialogue is spoken: and even when the dialogue comes, it cuts to the point!
Cal: What would you like for dessert? Let’s say it at the same time…
Emily: I want a divorce.
Whoa! Got a problem we need solved before the end of the film, don’t we? Woe to those of you who got to the theater late and are still looking for a seat! Right into Act 1 we go, with Cal getting himself his own place. We also see that Cal has two great kids, Robbie and Molly. 13 year old Robbie is in love with the family babysitter, Jessica. Turns out Jessica is in love with the father, Cal! Is this a summer movie or a Shakespeare melodrama? We got a lot of interesting twists already… and we haven’t even met The Man yet.
Let me sidebar here a moment with a quick commentary on “Primary Frame”. Now, some movie books talk about this and that technique, but I personally feel that the “primary frame” is one of the more important cinematic techniques. Think, for a moment, the first time you see James Bond in Dr. No. We only see his hands, smoothly dealing those cards in that plush casino for the longest time… And then, the gorgeous lady he’s been talking to asks the dealer for “another thousand”. Bond says, “I admire your courage, Miss…” And she answers, “Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…” And then we got a nice, medium size frame of this Man, as he casually lights his cigarette and says in an almost bored tone, “Bond. James Bond.” The “Primary Frame” of Ryan Gosling’s character in this film is no different in what it communicates to us – this is simply The Man.
The primary frame of Ryan Gosling as Jacob Palmer in this film is no different. We get a slow motion shot of him walking through the bar (which was apparently the ONLY bar the characters preferred to visit throughout the film). He’s dressed in the highest fashion, obviously in fantastic shape with a perfect haircut and smooth dialogue to match his look. Right away we want to know this fellow – admit it! He approaches Emma Stone’s Hannah and begins to talk her up… he wants to buy her a drink – and she turns him down! Her friend wants to kill her, but Hannah leaves the place. What does The Man do? He takes it in stride. We are HOPING he stays in the story…
Jacob is actually a huge part of the story. He observes Cal (Carrell) bitching and moaning at the bar to whoever’ll listen about his wife and how she left him, etc. Jacob gets Cal’s attention, waves him over and before he asks Cal to sit down, he politely asks the young lady he was talking to if she’ll excuse them? Of course she will – because he’s The Man! Jacob proceeds to take Cal under his wing. New clothes. New attitude. New haircut. The theme is tremendous: if Cal really wants his wife to appreciate him, shouldn’t he value himself first? While there are literally hundreds of Cable programs with the “Makeover Theme” applied to them, this movie did not overdo it, nor was this montage of Jacob helping Cal trite in any way. See how the film “stayed in its lane”?
The remainder of the film concerns twists and turns as Emily tries to decide whether she wants to get back with Cal, or let Kevin Bacon’s character, David Lindhagen continue to seduce her (the pronunciation of his last name is a recurring joke throughout the movie). Will Robbie actually get Jessica to love him? Will Jessica actually get Cal to love her? Will Jacob ever changes his life, the biography of which might be entitled, The Way of Nightly Casual Sex with Different Partners. These are all great questions – and let the gushing over the script continue – which are all presented with entertaining and appropriate answers! There were twists that came about in Act 3 that I didn’t see coming at all. And yet, they were original and most importantly, not overdone!
In closing, let me say a few words about Marisa Tomei. You may hear certain comments related to her along the lines of, “She’s good, but… she didn’t really deserve that Oscar.” Or maybe, “Didn’t she have a guest role on Seinfeld?” I’m going to say it loud and say it proud – she’s an incredible actress. If you’re a fan of hers as well, consider The Wrestler, My Cousin Vinny, The Slums of Beverly Hills, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and this film required viewing. She literally stole the show for me – and you know what a deep bench they had on this title! I had to watch, rewatch and watch once more a certain scene in which she conducts a parent-teacher conference. The title of this entry is her character’s line, in case you haven’t seen the film… And Carell’s character is correct in the film when he says it: she IS the perfect mix of cute and sexy! OK, I’ll stop now.
NOTE: A friend of a friend of mine told me once that it is in Tom Cruise’s contract that in whatever movie role he accepts, there must be a scene included with him running. I couldn’t think of a film of his where this isn’t true… while you think of that, is it just me, or does Julianne Moore have a similar clause in her contract that she MUST CRY in every role? Not a complaint, mind you, just an observation….