July 3rd, 2012


Romantic Comedy: Crazy, Stupid, Love

Yesterday I made five jars of strawberry jam, went to the library and proofread almost half of book 6. This morning, I was at my desk by 8, so I can only wonder what I'll accomplish today.

The one other movie I watched over the weekend was Crazy, Stupid, Love (that was the way it was punctuated on the HBO listings). I found it to be a very frustrating movie because while most of it was very generic and paint-by-numbers, there was a really intriguing story with some truly surprising twists buried in it. If they'd jettisoned a couple of the plot lines and focused on the one with the fun twists, they might have had something good, but I think they were trying for a Love Actually effect with all the various plot lines showing ways that people can be crazy or stupid for love. Or something like that.

So, what's it about? You may need to make a chart. Going by my sense of amount of screentime devoted to the plots, we had Plot A: After 25 years of marriage, Emily (Julianne Moore) tells her husband Cal (Steve Carell) that she's been sleeping with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. He numbly moves out, and then when he's loudly bemoaning his fate while drowning his sorrows at a bar, the player who stalks his prey in that bar (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him and starts tutoring him in how to be a single man. Meanwhile, Emily finds that her co-worker is kind of annoying and she misses her husband, but she's hurt that he didn't even put up a fight when she asked for a divorce, and now that he's become quite the ladies' man, she worries that she's lost him/is pissed off at him. Or something like that.

Plot B involves their thirteen-year-old son, who's in love with the seventeen-year-old babysitter. He stalks her, sends her non-stop text messages and stages public events at which he declares his undying devotion. He's convinced that they're soulmates and that one day she'll realize that their age difference doesn't matter, so he disregards all of her rejections and her pleas to leave her alone. His ardent devotion teaches his parents A Valuable Lesson in not giving up on love. Or something like that not involving a restraining order. Meanwhile, the babysitter is in love with Cal, and when he becomes single she hopes it's her chance, if only she can make him see her as something other than a kid.

Plot C centers on the player, who finally comes across a woman on whom his lines don't work (Emma Stone). She recognizes them for the lines they are and laughs at them as being seriously cheesy. She's also not interested because she has a lawyer boyfriend who's the exact opposite of the player type (Josh Groban -- yes, the singer, but as an actor he seems to be cornering the market on clueless dorks). But when her boyfriend disappoints her by not proposing, she goes back to the bar, orders the player to take her home, and very soon the player finds himself needing to ask his married friend for advice on how to have a relationship because he has no clue what to do when he actually wants to keep seeing a woman after the initial conquest.

Plot C was the one with all the real surprises and fun and with the actors/characters with any real life to them. Almost all of the laughs in the movie for me came from this plot, and it had one of the most surprising and romantic scenes I've seen in a romantic comedy in a long time when the player takes the challenging woman home, and she proceeds to analyze and laugh at each step of his usual seduction process, and along the way he ends up breaking every one of his own seduction rules, which leads to the night being far more intimate than either of them planned, and in a totally different way. As far as I was concerned, you could drop Plot B entirely because it was seriously creepy and led to the worst and most contrived scenes in the movie. I did like the turnaround of the single guy tutoring the long-married guy in being single and kind of saving his marriage and then the single guy needing the married guy to tutor him in having a relationship, so we'd need to keep parts of that plot, but we could keep it mostly offscreen. Then we could actually develop the context. We didn't see enough of Emma Stone's relationship with her boyfriend to understand why she turned from him to the player, and they didn't capitalize on that turnabout where he suddenly needed tutoring from his married friend. They skipped straight to a few weeks later so we didn't see those fumbling first steps where he was totally clueless. There was also a lot of fun potential with her snarky best friend, who could easily have stolen the movie. I spent the whole movie thinking she looked familiar and figuring she must have been some teen actor grown up, but then after I saw the closing credits I realized she was just seriously out of context because I knew her as Agent Lee from NCIS, the lawyer-turned-agent who had the semi-kinky affair with Jimmy Palmer and then turned out to be the mole stealing secrets. She was so funny and perfect as the romantic comedy snarky best friend that I couldn't place her from a more serious role in a crime show.

In general, there were some great moments, but otherwise there was a lot that annoyed me about this movie. I was watching some of the featurettes on the When Harry Met Sally DVD, and in one of them, they were talking about something I hadn't realized about that movie that's probably one of the reasons I love it so much: the man and woman are given equal weight. Neither is made the buffoon or butt of the joke, neither is totally right or wrong, neither is the bad guy. I've found that a lot of romantic comedies, especially the ones I consider "cynical," have the policy that the man is always wrong, probably because they figure that women will make up most of the audience, and it's a way to pander to the audience. That's one of the problems with this movie. With Plot A, the wife was the one who cheated and who asks for a divorce, and yet the movie acts like she's right and he's wrong, he's the one who didn't fight for her, he has to move out, he's in the wrong for having other relationships after she cheats and asks for the divorce, and he's the one who has to win her back. It's very one-sided in a situation where there's wrong on both sides. If she hadn't cheated and if it had just been about her feeling like he'd given up, it would have made more sense, but if you're unhappy with your marriage, maybe you should talk to your husband about that, go into marriage counseling, take a vacation together, or something other than cheat and jump straight to divorce. If asking for divorce was meant to shake him up and force him to fight, that's a rather passive-aggressive way of going about it because it's no-win for him. If he does put up a fight, then he looks like he's controlling and not respecting her wishes, but if he doesn't fight it means he doesn't care. I felt like, given the circumstances, she should have been the one trying to get him back when she realized divorce wasn't really what she wanted. Then even in the plot I liked there was a bit of that "the woman is always right" thing going on. We didn't get the context to know what their relationship was like, but she was the one who decided that he was going to propose when he promised a surprise. I thought his actual surprise was far more appropriate to the situation and it would have been a bad time to propose, and I thought his reason for not proposing, that he wasn't ready for it, was perfectly valid. And yet that was apparently meant to be reasonable grounds for her rushing off and flinging herself at the hot guy who tried to pick her up in a bar once. Now, maybe if we'd learned that he always had some excuse for not proposing and she'd realized he was never going to commit it would have made sense, but as shown in the movie, he was a jerk because he didn't propose when she thought he was going to, even though she wasn't sure she wanted him to -- another no-win. If he had proposed, it would have probably been one of those humiliating public "I'll have to think about it" situations. I hate it when movies do stuff like that (the reason I can't watch the end of Notting Hill -- I hate that he's the one who has to do the chase and the public humiliation show of devotion when she's the one who's jerked him around, denied being with him and wrongfully mistrusted him at every turn. She should have had to be the one to publicly acknowledge and apologize to him). As a woman, I can hold my own without being propped up by screenwriters, and I'm okay with a woman being in the wrong when she really is wrong. I don't hate men and want to see them suffer for me even when I'm wrong.

But the really frustrating thing for me is that I can't steal this story. I sometimes get some of my best ideas from books or movies that have some spark of something interesting that wasn't capitalized on, and by the time I've written the story that I think it should have been, no one would recognize the source. But the parts of this one I liked had just enough originality and just enough really surprising twists that I can't take the parts that worked and write what should have been without the source being really obvious, and without those parts it would be a pretty generic story.