MOVIE REVIEW: 'Crazy, Stupid, Love.' is funny, sexy, smart

The Associated Press. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

The Associated Press. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (PG-13)

3 1/2 stars out of 4

If you've been to a movie theater more than once in the last six months, you've probably also seen the trailer for "Crazy, Stupid, Love." every time. The studio has been hawking this film with a relentless fervor usually reserved for action franchises and finally showed it to the press for the last time prior to the "Harry Potter" screening two weeks ago. By then it had already worn out its welcome to such a degree that no one -- press or screening regulars -- laughed once.

The biggest and best surprise about the movie is that it only bears a passing resemblance to the trailer. All of the punch lines are still there but are lent a level of context, texture and depth not usually found in romantic comedies. This is a very funny movie that is smart without being overtly cerebral, sexy without being risque or sophomoric and is movingly dramatic in all the right places.

"CSL" is also stuffed with ultra-talented performers -- some well known, others not so much -- that demonstrate what "ensemble" truly means. No one mugs for the camera, hogs the spotlight or showboats. Everyone with a speaking role does exactly what's required of them and then they shut up. Showing this much restraint in a movie this top-heavy with dialogue and one-liners is next to impossible.

If you've seen the trailer you already know the basic plot. For the few of you that haven't, here's a thumbnail.

It opens with Cal (Steve Carell) being asked by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) for a divorce after 25 years of marriage. She's had a fling with a co-worker and is pretty sure she doesn't love Cal anymore. Both of them then undergo varying degrees of emotional meltdown.

As many a newly single man of a certain age often does, Cal hits the local singles bar but dresses like it's still the '80s and spills his guts as if he's in some touchy-feely '70s therapy group. It's pathetic. Cal's pain and self-pity is so glaringly obvious that it catches the attention of seasoned bar-fly Jacob (Ryan Gosling).

Suave, ripped and confident beyond belief, Jacob is a hall-of-fame level lounge lizard. His tongue isn't silver, it's platinum. Jacob rightfully views Cal as a sniveling and demoralized man in desperate need of major outward and inward overhauls and takes him under his wing. That covers about the first 15 minutes and is all you need to know.

Back to that pesky trailer. Despite stealing much of the movie's considerable thunder it thankfully never hints at the handful of monumental, out-of-left-field plot twists. The capper comes midway through the last act during what is the movie's only weak scene and one that temporarily drags the production down into basic-cable sitcom territory. Given the prime material we've been dining on for 90 or so minutes, it comes as a major letdown and considerable storytelling body blow.

Recovering mostly admirably, "CSL" still stumbles slightly on its way to the finish line. If exorcised of that one embarrassing scene (118 to around 110 minutes), it would have been perfect.

Holding her own and then some with Carell, Moore and Gosling is Emma Stone proving that her colossal breakout performance in "Easy A" was no fluke. With last week's single scene in "Friends with Benefits," next month's period drama "The Help" and her work here, Stone has all but cemented her position as her generation's premier leading lady.

Last, but certainly not least, are Jonah Bobo as Cal and Emily's son Robbie and Analeigh Tipton as his baby sitter Jessica. As we all know, a four-year difference in age during the teen years is considerable, a point screenwriter Dan Fogelman and "I Love You Phillip Morris" co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa keenly recognize and handle with caring finesse.

This year is a little more than halfway complete, but it's going to be tough for anyone to top "CSL" in the "best date movie of 2011" category. (Warner Bros.)