Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a polished, pleasant movie aimed at grown-ups, which automatically makes it a relief from what's felt like a punishing summer movie season. But just because it stars smart actors and isn't aggressively dumb doesn't automatically make it good, and while Crazy, Stupid, Love. works in fits and starts, its wildly inconsistent tone and Dan Fogelman's overwritten screenplay make it too frustrating to properly enjoy. Every time one of the many plot threads hits its stride, another careens wildly out of control, leading up to a conclusion so cliched it seems the movie has moved into parody. Given how many other comedic styles it's tried on up to that point, it's not totally impossible it didn't.
From the second scene in the movie, when Julianne Moore's Emily tells her husband Cal (Steve Carell) that she wants a divorce, something about this world set up by directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa feels off. Instead of ignoring his wife as she prattles on about her affair, like any regular human would, Cal opens the moving car door and drops to the pavement, scratching himself up and establishing his avoidant personality with such a broad move as to seem slightly unhinged. But Cal is our hero, a schlubby everyman thrust headfirst into single life again, still in love with his wife and their life together and utterly unprepared for the dating world ahead of him.
Enter Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a professional ladies man (at least, we're never told his actual job) who for reasons unknown, spies Cal looking out of place in a glitzy bar and decides to take him under his wing, like the host of a makeover show that exists only in his own mind. Soon Jacob has shown Cal how to wear a suit, how to pick up a woman (Marisa Tomei, more on her later) in the bar, and how to at least pretend he's moving on; meanwhile Emily continues her affair with her hunky co-worker (Kevin Bacon) but isn't moving on all that well either. While all this is happening we periodically revisit Emma Stone, who was hit on by Jacob early in the film but is otherwise off in her own film, reluctantly dating a dull good guy (Josh Groban, of all people) and wondering when her life will begin.
Stone's story is less a distraction than it seems at first, and when she and Gosling finally begin their inevitable romance, the easy chemistry between them briefly lights up the movie with wit and real affection. But beyond them the movie still creaks on, lingering too long on the cutesy crush Cal and Emily's son (Jonah Bobo) has on his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), and eventually turning into a farce that's completely unearned by the relaxed, naturalistic tone that came before it. There are jarring moments throughout, though, including Tomei's screechy and horribly out-of-place performance as Cal's one night stand and the nagging suspicion that none of the plot's many complications could ever happen to actual people. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a deliberately glossy Hollywood comedy, but the writing tries so hard to get at real emotions that its falseness ultimately crushes any truths it managed to unearthed.
By the time we reach that doozy of an ending, Crazy, Stupid, Love. has spun off its axis and straight into an excess of cleverness and baldfaced emotions that feel so far from where we started. Even with every performer giving their all, and the sparkling chemistry between Stone and Gosling that feels like a fun romantic comedy all its own, Crazy, Stupid, Love. can't pull itself into a cohesive movie that works. Throwing every style of comedy and romantic complication at the wall to see what sticks, the filmmakers find out too late that almost none of it does.