Monday, September 19, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

"What do you want for dessert?" Cal asks Emily. "A divorce." Cal is blindsided and Emily is an emotional wreck. So begins Crazy, Stupid, Love, a romantic-comedy

Cal (Steve Carrell) heads to an upscale bar to drown his sorrows. He notices Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a lady-killer who seems to have his love life down to a science. Jacob also notices Cal. How could he not, as Cal loudly monologues about his failed love life? Jacob decides to make Cal a sort of personal project, giving his wardrobe a makeover and teaching him the ways of attracting and seducing women. It's a sort of reverse mentoring, with the younger man coaching the middle-aged frumpy fellow. The friendship between Cal and Jacob is the center of Crazy, Stupid, Love, but there are plenty of side stories that reveal different facets of love. Cal's son, Robbie, is in love with his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica. Turns out Jessica is strangely in love with Cal. Emily (Julianne Moore) is toying with an affair with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon), and young professional Hannah (Emma Stone) is navigating her own romance issues while Jacob falls in love with her. Confusing? It can be. But love sometimes is too.

The beauty behind Crazy, Stupid, Love is its sweetly authentic characters. There is little in the way of raunch or recklessness; these are average people simply making mistakes as they try to pursue romance. Carrell and Gosling are especially effective in their roles, with Gosling taking a surprise turn in a mostly comedic performance. (Side note: this has been the year of Ryan Gosling, between Crazy, Stupid, Love, the recent Drive, and the upcoming The Ides of March. He's quickly become one of my favorite actors.)

The question behind Crazy, Stupid, Love is simple: what is true love? Is it the magical fateful "he/she is the ONE for me" kind of phenomenon? Or do we have a choice in the matter? If we follow the mindset found in Crazy, Stupid, Love then we have a soulmate, a person out there meant only for us. But is this what true love looks like?

I do believe in soulmates. I think that I married mine. Yet I don't believe she was my soulmate before I married her; she was just another beautiful woman out there in the world. But she's my soulmate now--she's the only one for me. Theologically, the two have become one. I find it infinitely more romantic to believe that I chose to love my wife, not that Fate or The Universe chose her for me. Beyond feelings or circumstances, I choose every day to stay committed to her and love her as fully as I can. Unfortunately for the characters in Crazy, Stupid, Love, that silly Fate decided to make the matching of soulmates as inconvenient as possible. A a 13-year-old boy loves a 17-year-old girl, who loves the middle-aged father of that same 13-year-old. Fate certainly has a sense of humor in creating this bizarre love triangle.

Spoiler Alert: Sometimes a single scene can taint an entire film, and Crazy, Stupid, Love has its own giant stain. A classmate encourages Jessica to send Cal naked pictures of herself, which she attempts. Her parents thankfully find the pictures before they can be distributed, but she eventually chooses to give those pictures to Robbie, with the exhortation, "to tide you over until you're older." There were audible groans of disgust in my theater as this scene played out; it simply wasn't funny or romantic at all. With personal passions for both youth ministry and justice issues in our world, seeing the very real horror of child porn distribution used as a throwaway joke cast a shadow over the entire film for me. Everything else was a fairly solid meditation on the complexities of love, and even praised fidelity and commitment over self-gratification. But it's hard for me to forget or forgive this scene.

As a romantic-comedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love hits all the right marks, with a entertaining balance between love and laughs. Yet as a treatise on love, it has a few glaring holes, especially in regards to soulmates and naked pictures. Thankfully, Scripture gives us the best definition of love in 1 John 4:10:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

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