Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) (PG-13) ★★½

Review Date: July 26th, 2011

The ensemble dramedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. has the makings of greatness. Its cast brims with nimble and likable actors, including Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone, and its screenplay, written by Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled), is replete with moments alternately touching, funny, clever, and heartbreaking. So why, then, is the end product ultimately so unsatisfying? Perhaps it's because the film, as constructed by directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is a mess, a jumble of disparate plot elements and shifting tones, its whole significantly less than the sum of its parts.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. begins with a breakup: Emily (Moore), after 25 years of marriage to Cal (Carrell), declares to him in a busy restaurant that she wants a divorce, then subsequently admits to an affair. As Cal and Emily grapple with love's demise, their thirteen-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is feeling its first stirrings, having developed a formidable crush on the family's seventeen-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). (He remains undeterred even after she walks in on him doing, well, what thirteen-year-old boys do.) Alas, Robbie's feelings appear doomed to remain unrequited, as the girl only has eyes for Cal. The implications of her crush, to which Cal is entirely oblivious (this isn't American Beauty 2), aren't made clear until much later.

Indeed, the implications of much of what happens in Crazy, Stupid, Love. aren't made clear until much later. The film meanders about – without clear aim or purpose – for a good portion of its running time, drifting back and forth between Cal's story and those of its supporting players, as Ficarra and Requa seem more intent on laying the groundwork for a Stunning Third-Act Twist than crafting a coherent and compelling narrative.

Devastated by his wife's revelations, Cal sulks nightly at a swanky uptown bar, where he earns the sympathy of its resident player, Jacob (Gosling). A sharp-dressed, blunt-spoken dilettante, he takes on the gloomy, pathologically uncool 44-year-old as a kind of apprentice, upgrading his wardrobe and schooling him on his pick-up strategy, which involves not so much seducing women as overwhelming them. The efforts soon pay off when Cal beds a daffy middle-school teacher (Marisa Tomei), followed by a bevy of anonymous bar babes.

But just as Cal enjoys promiscuity's first fruits, he finds himself pining for Emma, whom he still loves, and who has clearly come to regret her dalliance. Crazy, Stupid, Love. wants us to believe the two are soulmates destined to be reunited, but nothing about their scenes together suggests this to be true. The best the film can offer are wistful tales from the couples' days as high-school sweethearts – surely not the stuff of which successful marriages are made. The most telling statement on their relationship is made in the opening sequence, when Cal would rather leap from a moving vehicle than listen to his wife talk.

More credible is the unexpected bond Jacob forms with Hannah (Stone), a canny law-school graduate first seen flatly rejecting him (she's the only woman in the film to do so) earlier in the film. After her attorney boyfriend (Josh Groban) proves a bust, she runs (literally) into his arms, and shortly thereafter to his posh bachelor pad. But what starts out as a one-night-stand turns into an all-night conversation. Hannah first presses him to reveal the steps of his seduction routine, then to catalog his list of late-night Sharper Image purchases. When he complies, it feels like a requiem. Can a scrofulous cad really be redeemed over the course of one evening? He can if he's Ryan Gosling – and if his redeemer is Emma Stone.

The charm of that scene is nearly enough to redeem Crazy, Stupid, Love. Then comes the Big Twist, the point of which is debatable, the absurdity of which is not. Afterward, the film, which has heretofore alternated between sharp insight and sentimental contrivance, opts exclusively for the latter. The only thing missing from its sap-soaked climax is a slow-clap. rated this film 2 1/2 stars.