In the 10 years since he first commanded attention in The Believer, Ryan Gosling hasn’t exactly become renowned for his sense of humor, though he’s brought a wry touch to even roles as dark as the crack-addicted teacher in Half Nelson. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find him near the center of a mainstream Hollywood comedy like Crazy, Stupid, Love, in which he plays a sleek pick-up expert who helps a nebbish (Steve Carell) find his inner stud after the poor guy splits up with his cheating wife (Julianne Moore). Unfortunately, this lothario’s patented routine is no match for his latest conquest (Emma Stone), which means that everyone involved in this farcical roundelay has to reassess how much craziness and stupidity they’re prepared to embrace in the name of love.
Directed but not written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the team responsible for the coal-black comedies Bad Santa (as writers) and I Love You Phillip Morris (as writer-directors), Crazy, Stupid, Love never even remotely approaches the toxic hilarity of their previous work—this is a risk-free crowd-pleaser that goes down smooth. But it’s still smarter and more nuanced than most studio fare, providing multiple opportunities for its talented cast to dig a bit deeper than their respective punchlines. Gosling and Stone, in particular, have fantastic chemistry as a couple whose self-consciousness about the head games they’re playing unexpectedly functions as an aphrodisiac. Watching a genuine smile crack through Gosling’s facade of charming indifference is a pleasure.