I’ve been trying to place Ryan Gosling’s accent for a couple of years. As it turns out, there’s nothing to place—Gosling, a native Canadian, developed a false accent in imitation of Marlon Brando when he was young (he didn’t think Canadians sounded tough), and has been unable to shake it since.
The accent, phony or not, carries well. A Canadian imitating Marlon Brando shouldn’t sound convincing in the role of a nigh-unstoppable seducer of woman, but Gosling pushes the believability quotient unreasonably high in Crazy, Stupid, Love. In some respects his character, Jacob, is a scumbag. But, God forgive me, he comes off as so appealing that I found myself thinking he was doing a favor for all of the women he takes home for one-night stands. ‘Smooth’ is not a sufficient assessment of Gosling’s game. The way he insinuates himself early in the film between two strangers at a night club, Hannah (Emma Stone), a law school graduate about to take the bar, and her attitudinous friend Liz (Liza Lapir, in the best Asian-sidekick role since Short Round from Temple of Doom), feels beyond the capacity of someone made of material surfaces; Jacob is a mist of husky designer scents and winning self-regard.
Which makes it all the more pleasant that Jacob fails to overpower Hannah, either romantically or through screen presence. Emma Stone is now smack dab in the middle of that early-flowering stage in the ingénue’s career when she develops a style intended to make the audience comfortable with her, while subtly resisting being pigeon-holed. In Love, she displays the ability to do both. Stone’s face is somewhat odd for a movie star–her unusually wide-spread eyes, pronounced cheekbones and pronounced overbite give her a sketched-in, cartoon-animal look. Add in her heavy smoker’s voice, and she becomes an excellent vehicle for teenage counterprogramming (or at least the Hollywood version)—the cool girl who might be amenable to hooking up with a fat loser (Superbad), or the outcast who triumphs over the mob (Easy A). There is some version of this wildly improbable character in Hannah, who transmits a natural insecurity which feels genuine, but not quite reasonable (red hair and overbite and freckles aside, she is still obviously gorgeous, which Liz is constantly reminding her of). And yet, Hannah’s self-conscious reaction to Jacob—she orders him to take his shirt off, then throws a tantrum at his chiseled frame, which again brings up the curious idea of us picturing her as an unusually pale slab of chopped liver—works, because she tells us it works. Stone creates, in Hannah, a character who is able to judge herself from a calming distance, with the knowledge that all of the rules apply to her as well. Watch her face when Jacob initially tries to pick her up. It’s obvious she’s in love with him immediately, but she holds out hope for cosmic justice, which 1) doesn’t let people like him always get what they want, and 2) doesn’t let people like her get what they want, either. So she resists him, to return to the arms of her dreadful Blackberry-manipulating lawyer boyfriend. This is Basic Goodness 101, and Hannah aces the class. Jacob has a chance to demonstrate his own goodness later on, and when they finally do hook up the movie somehow lets us enjoy a moment which should be way, way too perfect.
Hannah and Jacob probably deserve their own movie, but here they have to share with less charismatic people. There are three or four other cycling relationships in Crazy, Stupid, Love, including the central one between Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), his wife of 25 years. In many ways this is the least convincing one of the bunch, despite a good performance from Carell. By this point I am getting a bit tired of his hang-dog everyman persona, which he seems to bring out for every role that isn’t straight comedy, but in Crazy he occasionally gets the chance to cut loose, especially when he’s sharing screen time with Gosling.
The screenplay is quite good, at a purely experiential level. We get several big surprises, and one or two glorious moments which may cause an earnest smile to spontaneously pass over your face in the darkness, or even elicit a smattering of applause. But these moments must transcend the thoroughly conventional nature of the plot, and the lack of message. We can kind of see why Emily and Cal have drifted, but there never seems to be a real threat to their marriage, only contrived ones. The more minor affairs, involving their teenage son and a babysitter, are amusing, but lightweight. We get to eventually see how everything is necessary to furnish a satisfying resolution, but it would be a mistake to think too much about the reasons. The cockles of your heart get nicely warmed; the brain gets only a mild buzz.
Crazy, Stupid, Love still gets high marks from me, however. It is a middle-class movie with middle-class aspirations, a dicey proposition in the current movie-going climate. ‘Ugh,’ I can hear an executive saying, ‘love it, but who’s gonna come to see this thing in a movie theatre, instead of Pay-Per-View in their living room?’ What we need is for a couple of these to start climbing the box office based on word-of-mouth, to prove you don’t need a $40-million opening weekend to make lots of money.