DIRECTOR: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
CAST: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo, Analeigh Tipton, John Carroll Lynch, Marisa Tomei, Liza Lapira, Josh Groban, Beth Littleford, Kevin Bacon, Joey King.
SYNOPSIS: Cal Weaver (Carell) thinks he is living the perfect suburban life until wife Emily (Moore) tells him she’s been having an affair with a guy from work (Bacon) and wants a divorce. After watching Cal drown his sorrows night after night in a local bar, ladies man Jacob Palmer (Gosling) decides to take Cal under his wing, turning him into a project and helping him navigate the dating scene.
It’s not often a film about soul mates, heartbreak and first love can be turned into a deliciously smart comedy. But after 2009’s quirky I Love You Phillip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa seemed like the perfect duo to give it a try.
Let’s get one thing straight. Casting Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling opposite each other is inspired. And, oddly, pairing Carell with man of the moment Gosling makes the former all the more attractive. A man that I find impossible to hate, Carell proves yet again how he has a great deal more to offer than his usual frat pack adlibbing. Sure, you can tell in parts he had free rein, but it is also apparent that he is very capable and convincing when it comes to playing the bastard and the arrogant man. He has the ability to hurt and he does it very well. The archetypal husband, Cal Weaver is a real homebody, even checking up on his garden plants after moving out of the family home. He plays it safe by drinking vodka cranberry and is everything that Gosling’s Jacob Palmer is not.
Palmer is everything Cal longs to be. He has no children to tie him down, no serious relationship to worry about and, to Cal (and every woman in every bar), is an absolute Adonis. Gosling’s current status is played up phenomenally well, with slow-motion set pieces and numerous references as, “the hot guy from the bar.” His physique, looks and general aura are poked fun at constantly, but in line with Jacob, this is something that Gosling is able to deal with in his stride. He insults Cal with his blunt honesty (“be better than The Gap”), but he’s just too darn cool to be angry with. The ultimate ladies man, Jacob finds himself more than intrigued by Hannah (Stone) who is the only girl to ever brush off his advances. But when the possibility of an actual relationship comes into Jacob’s life, he needs a great deal of help and reassurance, leaving Cal to appreciate just how many insecurities his idol has.
Confused as to whether she is in the midst of a midlife crisis or whether this is purely a call for help, Emily is far removed from the crazy psycho bitch she could have been and in turn emphasises the film’s pragmatic approach to divorce. With moments between her and Cal bittersweet and borderline heartbreaking, Hannah and Jacob balance this out perfectly even if they do spend most of the film apart. The scenes they share are fascinating, and although some are played for obvious comedy value, seeing Jacob’s guard slowly crumble during a particular montage is really quite beautiful.
The idea of young love and the loss of childhood innocence is handled particularly well, with Cal’s son Robbie (Bobo) completely smitten with his babysitter Jessica (Tipton). Showing a natural flair for comedy, Bobo guarantees this element of the film remains cute and although his family life is crashing down around him, all Robbie is focused on is getting his crush reciprocated. But, of course, Jessica has her eyes on someone else and although this turns the film a little American Beauty for a while it never becomes uncomfortable – as Hannah keeps reminding us, this is the “PG-13” version of life.
Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon join the brilliant ensemble, Tomei hysterical at times in her ability to improvise along with Carell (making her a real surprise for me) and Bacon not having to try very hard at all to be that guy that everybody loves to hate.
It does get a little farcical towards the end, with the obligatory ‘everyone hates everyone’ part adding to this, but it isn’t dwelt on for too long and the film benefits greatly for not making the final third comprise entirely of screaming and shouting. Yes, parts are a little predictable, but the brilliant script and surprisingly spot-on merging of Carell and Gosling hold this intelligent and heartfelt tangle of everyday lives far above the majority of recent love-centric films.