Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors of the Jim Carrey comedy I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, have tackled an ambitious romantic comedy for their second directional effort. The story attempts three multigenerational love stories. Because of it, the film never delves deep under the surface. What the story lacks in depth, though, Dan Fogelman's script certainly makes up for in craft. How all the pieces come together is crazy.
The story wastes no time getting right into it. Cal (Steve Carell, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) is having dinner with his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) and while they are deciding what to have for dessert, she decides to serve him up a divorce. Cal, your Average Joe accountant, is devastated. After he moves out, he starts frequenting a bar, where he tells everyone in earshot about his woes. Jacob (Ryan Gosling, THE NOTEBOOK), a 20-something, immaculately dressed, rich lady's man, takes pity on him and decides to help Cal fix his look.
Jacob is shallow, but that doesn't stop him from getting any woman he wants. Except for Hannah (Emma Stone, EASY A). She's a law student who is dating the boring Richard (singer Josh Groban). There is nothing lionhearted about this guy. Cal and Hannah's paths will certainly cross again after her first rejection of the lothario. One of the stupid things about the script is that it loses Stone's Hannah in the midst of Cal trying to find his "manhood" as Jacob would put it.
The plot does a better job of weaving in the unrequited romance between Cal's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo, ZATHURA) and his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, THE GREEN HORNET). Robbie makes grand gestures to win her affections, but she doesn't want to have anything to do with the kid. She has her eye on an older man.
One of the reasons for the split between Cal and Emily is that she had an affair with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon, FLATLINERS), a smarmy guy who keeps pressuring Emily to keep their affair going. He even tries to win over her son, but the young romantic is too smart for that. Having only slept with Emily his whole life, once he gets his groove, Cal starts picking up woman like never before to move on. One of those women is Kate (Marisa Tomei, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD), a sexually enthusiastic 40-something who will haunt him.
The plot shifts over its course from well written to "well written." Outside of the criminal section where Stone goes missing (her reemergence is like a lightning strike the film needs), the plot is laid out precisely. The pieces build nicely, working in some nice slight of hand surprises that work unusually well to add depth to the characters instead of just being gimmicks. The film then finds a scene that seems like the big shwoopy pa-poopy moment that falls into complete hilarious chaos, leaving Cal worse off than he ever was. The final resolution is too cute for its own good, but doesn't break the credibility entirely because we know these characters like grand gestures.
Despite the feeling that this story was written instead of lived in, this comedy does find genuine moments. Jacob and Hannah talking in bed and what it reveals. Cal watching his wife through their back window while talking to her on the phone and what is and isn't being said. Like I've said it's at times crazy and at times stupid, but it is at its best in the times when it finds the way people love.