Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review of "30 Minutes or Less"

Since this Jesse Eisenberg/Aziz Ansari caper wasn't a laugh riot, I'll share a scene from the movie theater that was.

The fiancee and I were leaving a matiness of "Captain America: The First Avenger" as a youngish couple entered. Suddenly, the girl stopped cold.

"Where did you put my sweater?" she snapped, as if her boyfriend had the comprehension skills of a three-year-old.

The boyfriend said nothing.

"Go get it," she snarled. Cue the guy running to the car.

Initially, this scene was pretty funny. It still is once my anger subsides. This is my last review as a single man, and if there's one piece of advice I can offer, it's this: Always keep your self-respect. You shouldn't relinquish that just because someone allows you to see them naked. That's a terrible deal that ranks right up there with the Louisiana Purchase or the Golden State Warriors giving up Kevin McHale and Robert Parish and getting Joe Barry Carroll.

Enjoy the review, which I wrote for The Weekender.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Also Not Included: Any Sense of Realism

A few weeks ago, I posted a little something on "Valentine's Day," which inspired a wrath of negative comments on Facebook to Garry Marshall's terrible ode to a holiday created by a greeting card company. My future brother-in-law, The Big Ragu, said it was a dumber version of "Love, Actually." The fiancee said there were too many characters, including many who couldn't act.

(The latter development is both joyous and terrifying. The fiancee is as sweet as strawberry pie and the venom she unleashed on Taylor Swift was merciless--and wondrous to behold. But this relationship already has too much cynicism. I'm a slice of burnt toast from becoming a grumpy old man. Her kindness makes me palatable to the world.)

Both are right, but the more I think about it, I also hated how "Valentine's Day" included every possible demographic and nationality. It's an insulting approach at giving a movie universal appeal. Hey, the script is awful, but if we can get Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah, we can rope in 10,000 more African-Americans on the opening weekend!

But I think Marshall and his writers didn't capture everyone. It would have been nice if they had given screen time to the following:

--Zombies (unforgivable, actually)
--Infants who can communicate with each other
--Little people
--Ugly people
--Pets dressed like people
--People dressed like pets
--The unemployed
--Al Qaeda operatives (if the American military is represented...C'mon, Gar)
--My parents
--Your parents
--The overweight
--The terminally ill
--High school students that don't have access to personal trainers

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book of the Month, August 2011

I love books. They're fun, educational, and can serve as hip coasters for sweaty beverages.

A few days ago, I watched "Picnic," the 1956 lost youth sudster starring William Holden when he was young and handsome. (Note: It's one of my mom's favorite movies.) Holden has always fascinated me. I read somewhere that he was an avid traveler, so much so that he chose movie roles simply based on shooting locations. And, of course, he was a terrible alcoholic. Both led to his steep decline as a matinee idol.

Looking to learn more, I turned to David Thomson's "New Biographical Dictionary of Film," which is a terrific resource. It contains short, information-packed bios of directors, actors, screenwriters. It's one of those books you can read for hours, primarily because Thomson is such a good writer.

Check about what he writes about Holden: "You could pick a dozen or so maturing close-ups of Holden and the series would tell the horrible story of movies as a marinade called early embalming."

It takes a certain kind of talent to encapsulate an entire career in one swift sentence. Sometimes less is more with good writing. Thomson, and his wonderful book, proves that.

Until next time, read in peace.

P.S.--Holden, amazingly, is in his mid-50s in this still from "Network." Harrison Ford, by comparison, is now 68. Holden suffered one of Hollywood's sadder finales. After a night of drinking, the actor cut his head during a household incident. The worst part? He was conscious for at least 30 minutes after the injury but never called for help. His body was discovered four days later.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Miranda July Interview

I was extremely psyched when this opportunity came up. The woman has carved out her own path as an artist, filmmaker, and writer. What's more remarkable? She's talented (and in-demand) in all of those areas. In a world of pseudo, lame-o triple threats like Jennifer Lopez, July is the real thing.

So, aside from being a fan, imagine my surprise when it turned out she was the cat's ass. Having reviewed the tape and gotten over my nerves, July may have been one of the most cooperative interview subjects ever. There wasn't one canned answer. No is-this-over-yet? gestures.

I think the interview, which apeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission, shows that. Enjoy.

P.S.--Having now seen both of them up close, Darcy Savit Croatto doesn't look like Miranda July.


Six years ago, Miranda July wrote, directed, and starred in Me and You and Everyone We Know, a wonderfully offbeat, bittersweet character study that earned her critics' darling status. Anyone else would have made three more movies since then. July, however, doesn't consider herself to be just a filmmaker.

This is not the philosophical yammering of the deluded. She's put out a terrific collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, worked on art projects (known as a performance artist, her work has been featured at the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art), and finished a non-fiction book. There's also a novel that needs tending to.

The time between feature films hasn't diminished July's talents. Her latest, The Future (opening in Philadelphia on Aug. 12), is a moody, resonant meditation on modern life centering on a young couple, Sophie and Jason (July and Hamish Linklater), whose decision to adopt a very sick cat causes their lives to catastrophically unravel.

Paw-Paw, the feline waiting to be taken home, narrates; July provides the voice. The moon speaks. Time stops and starts. What differentiates July, who also wrote The Future, from the likes of Todd Solondz and Charlie Kaufman is that her weirdness embraces the world, not pushes back at it. She's not afraid to be vulnerable. Some may find her film's plot twists unbearably artsy or self-indulgent, but look again: They comment on how the rhythms and expectations of daily life affect us.

Thankfully, July, 37, does not let her work speak for herself. During a 40-minute interview last month, she was an interviewer's dream: eloquent, honest, and funny. She spoke about life as an "artistic polymath," the challenges and rewards of directing her anticipated follow-up, and what she wants audiences to take away from it.

Pete Croatto: When Me and You and Everyone We Know was released, a profile of you in the New York Times declared: "The next movie will be easier to finance with a bigger budget and a star or two. And Hollywood just might come knocking, as it has for other gifted, offbeat directors." Is any part of that statement true?

Miranda July: [Laughs.] Ah, let's see. It wasn't easier to finance in part because of the recession happened right around the same time and also because I think these scripts are never easy. If I had written the same exact script again they'd be like, "We know she can do this," but it had all these new things that people were unsure about.

PC: So, it was a combination of the recession and the script being too daring? Was it more one thing than the other, or did both play equal parts?

MJ: There were plenty of people who wanted to make it—it just couldn't be for very much money. That was very much determined by what the market can bear: You make it for this much, you have to sell it for this much. There's kind of a known range for that. Even if you do have a star, frankly, it doesn’t that get much higher.

PC: What's surprising to me is that the people who make these decisions have seen your work. It's not like they're expecting a romantic comedy about two New Yorkers.

MJ: Right after the first movie, there were different offers. I don't know [about] "Hollywood comes knocking," but there were a few knocks. But the other thing is, I worked on my other work for a while and came at this, you know, in a very organic way through this performance [Things We Don’t Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About, the inspiration for The Future]. But I didn't strike while the iron was hot. I never do that, it seems. To not have a star, ultimately, I did meet with a whole lot of people [for the male lead] but they didn't seem as right as the guy I chose [Linklater].

PC: You didn't feel any pressure to direct another movie right away?

MJ: I felt it, but I didn't heed it. I felt a greater pressure to put out my book of short stories.

PC: Did the time off between films help you in any way?

MJ: It helped me in every way because it was what I wanted to do. And, just practically, I was trying to make a career that was more like the career I really wanted to have, which isn't just a film career. I make a living from the fiction, not from movies. In the most practical sense, like, that's what I'm living off of. I then started writing a novel, enough to sell that. If I had just been going from indie movie to indie movie I think I'd be in dire straits.

PC: So, life got in the way, but in a good way. You had your own projects.

MJ: It wasn't life got in the way; it was very calculated, seriously. That sort of sounds like I was unaware and time just passed. If I try to write another script now it's going to be bad because I'm going to be doing it in order to prove I can do a second movie, so I need to work exactly in the way that I've had for the last 10 years.

PC: It's obviously worked for you because I read somewhere that you haven't had a day job since you were 23.

MJ: Right. I've also been quite poor and used to be a thief, so that's not saying that much, you know.

PC: I know you were arrested for shoplifting once years ago. I had no idea you had such a criminal background.

MJ: It was just years and years of not paying for stuff.

PC: Like the rest of America right now.

One line in The Future that struck me is how the film's couple, Jason and Sophie, is "in the middle of the beginning." What made you decide that now was the time for this movie, instead of 20 years later, when you may have more to say about life?

MJ: I was thinking a lot about the future. I met my husband [Mike Mills, the director of Beginners] and kind of had that moment where you realize you're going to try and be with someone for, like, the whole life. Which kind of makes you think about the whole thing. Even though it's a good thing, you're suddenly really thinking about death more and being an old person. Those were all kind of new thoughts to me, and then while I was having those new thoughts, through doing another project where I'm interviewing people selling things through the PennySaver classifieds, I met this actual person at the end of their life [her co-star, the late Joe Putterlik], this old man who had been with his wife forever who was making these raunchy cards for her. It was the lens I was looking at everything through, but you're right: You could almost make the same movie again.

PC: Though it's not epic in terms of budget and stars, The Future feels grand. It covers relationships, mortality, time, technology, and a cat serving as the narrator. How do you corral all those ideas without losing a connection with the audience?

MJ: That's the area that's really exciting to me: How can this still feel surprising, where you're engaged enough to be surprised, and funny or sad where you're actually feeling sad? All those things plus see these ideas that are not necessarily very grounded in the visual world. Some of that with this movie was letting myself be free in the way that I might in a short story or something with metaphor, but be very simple about it—it wasn't like he stopped time, he stopped time— really use the emotional value of [metaphors].

That word "epic," I would try and impress that upon people in pitch meetings: "I know this seems small or quirky or whatever, but to me this is like an epic drama." There's a journey through the night. If nothing else having that in mind constantly—this is almost like a fable, we know this story. Hopefully that intent comes through.

PC: You have that idea, but you have two ordinary people going through the ordinary twists and turns of a relationship. But there's also this grand swelling underneath.

MJ: I never want to be grand about the grand stuff. That's just embarrassing to me, because none of us are living that life. When you have grand feelings there's still these objects around; the present moment, always, something is wrong in it.

PC: One aspect of the film that spoke to me was how Sophie and Jason are tethered to the Internet. Sophie cuts them off, hoping to create a series of dances for YouTube, but instead she's paralyzed. Is it still hard for you to make that creative leap when working on something new?

MJ: Whether or not it is—and sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't—I'm always afraid of that. I think that was the main thing for me: Wow, even though I keep managing to make things, I only seem to be getting more and more afraid that I'm not going to be able to. It seemed worse looking at that.

PC: You still have that fear, even though you're well established?

MJ: Oh, yeah. Sure.

PC: Does that drive you?

MJ: Probably, yeah. It's not a relaxed environment inside. [Laughs.]

PC: Can you picture your life without that creative tension?

MJ: It's always been really high stakes to me, even before there was any attention. It's like everything has to be born out of the crucible of my inner whatever. It's not just my art. The person who lives with me knows each day we live and die a million, tiny deaths. He's not doing that, he's fine. [Laughs.] He's wired differently. But I take each thing so hard. I have kind of a sense of humor about it at this point.

PC: Reading the production notes, you talk about working in a world without distractions, as Sophie attempts to do, and that this would be about the worst thing possible because "no one would have time to watch me every second." In this environment, "my true self would haunt me, and this would be a nightmare. It was very painful to act all of this out."

Two questions: First, was making The Future therapeutic in any way? Second, is part of your artistic motivation – whether it's your performance art, short stories, or films – the desire to stay connected to the outside world?

MJ: There's a pretty isolated, lonely tendency in myself that doesn't seem to be improving wildly. [Laughs] So I really have to hurl myself at that wall. It's pretty good at that, as it turns out. I mean, the work does a good job of that. Is it therapeutic? Well, not really in the way those notes would imply, that I worked through that. Putting yourself through hard things and surviving them, there's something therapeutic about that. Part of what was painful about it was just it was a hard movie to make. We shot it in 21 days. It's therapeutic because it makes me braver by the end, and I sort of ruined the idea of affairs with creepy men. It's like, "Can't do that now, I just made a movie about it." Unfortunately, sometimes I'll point at the moon and I'll be like, "Ruined." And the beach [which is also featured in The Future]? Ruined, at least for a while.

PC: Is it hard to live a life normally and not have it tethered to anything artistic?

MJ: It is kind of hard, yeah. Sometimes I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. I'll feel myself looking for some way to use whatever the moment I'm having to get through for art. Sometimes I'll be like, "Come on, just hang out here. Everyone else here seems to be doing it." Or I'll just give in. I'll be like, "Well, we all have our crutch and that's mine." It could be worse.

PC: You told Interview magazine last year, "Life is so ridiculously gorgeous, strange, heartbreaking, horrific, etc., that we are compelled to describe it to ourselves, but we can’t! We cannot do it! And so we make art." Without getting into a debate about what art is, how does making movies help you describe life?

MJ: You can't. I always have this sense of failing at it, but there's something about the trying that makes it this other thing that's very human, that's like what a person would do if they were trying to describe life. In that, you didn't describe the thing itself, but you did a really good enactment of what we do, which is a good thing to have examples of.

PC: I'm not sure I get it.

MJ: Let's say there's God. [Gestures to wall.] You couldn't describe him, but your picture that you would paint would be a really maybe important thing, because it would have devotion in it, it would have this reaching and this yearning and it'd be this trying to get at something that's impossible to get at. That, in and of itself, is a good thing to have, but it's not God.

PC: A lot of people know you for being, to borrow a journalist's phrase, "an artistic polymath."

MJ: It makes me seem like I'm good at math, which I'm not. [Laughs.] It's the one thing I'm not good at it.

PC: How hard is it to shift from one medium to another, and what made you realize that The Future would work best as a movie?

MJ: It's easy to move between the mediums. The hard thing is sticking with the one when you really have to. At a certain point, there has to be, like, a whole year of just movie in order to make the movie. I sort of feel condemned to eighth grade. There's something kind of sad about that to me.

PC: So writing a screenplay becomes like completing your civics homework?

MJ: Right. You can do other things at the same time. The performance [Things We Don’t Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About], I felt really good about it. I liked it a lot. For one thing, I didn't want to tour. I didn't want to travel the world with it, which is the next thing you do with a performance. I don't really like that life. That was one part of it, and then I was like, "Oh, and conveniently, I need to make a second movie anyway." And I think I just kind of tricked myself in through the door on that, where I don't have to have that part where I'm like, "What's it going to be about, what idea is good enough?" I also thought if I could pull it off as a movie it'd be more interesting in this less avant-garde context.

PC: In going from one medium to another, how are your days scheduled?

MJ: It's always different, but a lot of times if I'm going to write, I'm going to write in the first half of the day. And then sometimes I'll say, "If I can write until two, then I can work on these art ideas or this performance or something that seems like a break." Or they'll just be things I need to do. Like when I was invited to be in the Venice Biennale it was like, "Rad." I had to come up with sculptures, and I had these lovely days where I would write and then go make something in clay.

PC: The reason I ask is that as a freelance writer I find it hard to toggle from a book review to a movie review…

MJ: If they're all kinds of writing, that's hard.

PC: It's much easier to go from performance art to script to something else?

MJ: They have to be pretty different, because you want the feeling that you're playing hooky from the one. That's what's useful. If it's between two writing things, sometimes that works if it's a short, fun writing thing and then your book. That can work.

PC: A lot of people think that the days are open-ended for anyone who works in a creative field, that you write or do whatever you do when the muse strikes.

MJ: No, it's all endless to-do lists and there's never enough time in the day and it's a lot of discipline.

PC: Going back to The Future, since I'm not writing about Larry Crowne, I feel this is valid question to ask: What do you want people to take away from the movie?

MJ: That's funny. In the Minneapolis screening at The Walker [Art Center], there were these two friends who were like writing friends. All they did was write together. They said, "We just wanted to say hi, but we're going to go to this place where we write and we just feel so inspired we're going to do that right now." That's like the best compliment. For me, when something makes me feel that way, that's like gold, really valuable. To be that thing…It's not necessarily that you're going actually go make something, but that maybe you feel like you have some new space that’s for you to feel something in or do something in.

PC: You want people to feel like there's some wiggle room in their lives to do the things they want to do?

MJ: Or feel something new, and that thing might be a sad feeling. I'm not saying everyone's going to go out and make crafts and be happy or something.

PC: What I love about your movies is that they're gloriously open-ended.

MJ: I guess the only thing I would hope is that they do feel something, that there'd be more an increase in feeling by the end. [Laughs.]

PC: That's a great tagline for the poster.

MJ: An increase in feeling—guaranteed.

PC: Are you optimistic about your own future or, do you, like Jason, consider yourself at the "loose change" part of your life?

MJ: I don't feel that way. So many of my friends are quite a bit older than me and I always cringe, like, I hope they don't think I think that about them. But I do sometimes have this getting ahead of myself thing, where I'm already thinking of myself as if I'm 60 or something…I don't know how I do some crazy math where it's all gone, the time. And I have to kind of remind myself: You're actually still in the scheme of things in the young part of your life, God willing. And I feel hopeful. I guess there is hope in that because I'm so invested and there's so much I want to do. I like it. [Laughs.]

PC: How's your novel going?

MJ: Well, according to these interviews, it just keeps getting realer and realer. [Laughs.] I just made a movie and now I've been promoting it. I did write a book in the last six months, but it wasn't the novel, it was a non-fiction book [It Chooses You, available this fall] that has to do with all the people I interviewed through the PennySaver thing but is also very personal. [Adopts helpful tone.] People can read that while I'm writing the novel.

PC: You're big on observing life and drawing from that. Do these interviews and the press tour feed the creative side?

MJ: Kind of, at first, although I'm sort of shutting down a bit with my interest and all that, only because I'm in self-preservation mode only as of the last couple of days. I'm out for two weeks this time, so you hit that one-week-to-go wall. That stuff is interesting. I've been doing this, also, for six months on and off. There's part of me that feels really, really guilty for not working every day, not writing or making something new.

PC: Do you squeeze work in on plane trips, in your hotel room?

MJ: I don't. I'm not really writing. Sometimes I have an idea, but this is pretty hard work. I have to give myself a break. And also, to some degree, I'm going to be writing for the next few years. This is the part that you fantasize about when you're writing. So it's OK.

PC: So sitting across the table from a sweaty, bearded journalist is part of the dream?

MJ: [Laughs.] I've been waiting for this!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Film Round-Up, August 2011

With the exception of the stupendously overrated "Another Earth," this was a good batch of flicks. After a stretch that I've been through, it was nice to have fun at the movies again.

By the way, rent "Testament" instead of "Another Earth." The former film mixes quiet terror and personal uncertainty with nary a misstep. It's the movie the fancy-pants "Another Earth" strives to be. And it's got a wonderful performance by Jane Alexander (pictured).

These reviews previously appeared in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)


The Future (Dir; Miranda July). Starring: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Joe Putterlik, Isabella Acres, Angela Trimbur. Writer/director July's long-awaited, haunting follow-up to Me and You and Everyone We Know stays with you. A misguided, mostly housebound couple (July, Linklater) decides to adopt an injured cat, prompting them to quit their jobs and spend a month living meaningful lives before feline parenthood. She sets out to perform a dance a day, an artistic endeavor that paralyzes her, especially when she cancels Internet service. He becomes a full-time volunteer who spends all day soliciting donations from Californians uninterested in saving the environment. Desperate for attention, she randomly connects with a successful businessman (Warshofsky) who provides it. And, of course, there's a narrating cat, a talking moon, and time stoppage. Quirky and occasionally baffling, but the film is always compelling. July, who's also an acclaimed short story writer and artist, explores our crippling dependence on technology, the drudgery of relationships, and how our need for acceptance can poison us. July's ability to establish her special kind of weirdness, while maintaining her characters' humanity and telling hard truths, makes me wish she had fewer occupations. See interview on page TK. **** [R]

Point Blank (Dir: Fred Cavayé). Starring: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Elena Anaya, Gérard Lanvin. When nurse's aide Samuel Pierret (Lellouche) foils a murder attempt on a mysterious patient (Zem), there are unexpected consequences. The next day, after a vicious home attack, Samuel's very pregnant wife (Anaya) is kidnapped. If he doesn't bring the patient to the abductors within three hours she's dead, but when Samuel's new lethally skilled companion has his own score to settle, plans change. Breathlessly paced French thriller—which bears no resemblance to John Boorman's 1967 hard boiled classic—never lets its foot off the gas, thanks to a series of clever plot twists and terrific action scenes. Little things matter here: Crisp editing, kinetic, but lingering camerawork that allows you to enjoy the action, and a filmmaker clearly influenced by the ordinary guy heroics of Die Hard and The Fugitive. It's refreshing to see Lellouche, a regular looking person with a regular body, use his wits to triumph. He and Zem are excellent as the unlikely, desperate allies, and Cavayé never resorts to Lethal Weapon-style riffing. You want smart summer fun? Look no further. **** [R]

Another Earth (Dir: Mike Cahill). Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother. Four years ago, aspiring astrophysicist Rhoda (co-writer and producer Marling) obliterated her future when she drunkenly careened into a stopped car, killing the family of a successful conductor (Mapother). That same night, scientists discovered a second Earth, or Earth 2. Freshly released from prison, Rhoda, now sulking through a grief-induced fog as a school custodian, seeks to make amends with the widower. Before she can tell him the truth, Rhoda loses her nerve and misrepresents herself, leading to a problematic relationship, especially when she gets the chance to visit Earth 2. Much ballyhooed film starts promisingly but there's a giant flaw: The looming presence of a parallel Earth is nothing more than a pretentious and pandering distraction, a metaphorical shiny object used to lend faux gravity to the story of two troubled lovers. Here is a prime example of the damage that results when concept overrules characters. ** [PG-13]

The Myth of the American Sleepover (Dir: David Robert Mitchell). Starring: Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Claire Sloma, Brett Jacobsen, Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey. The events of this ensemble teen drama unfold over the last night of summer at several sleepovers in a Midwestern suburb. Young heartthrob Rob (Morton) ditches his friends to find the pretty blonde who locked eyes with him at the supermarket. New kid in town Claudia (Bauer) uncovers a hurtful secret involving her track teammate (Shayla Curran). Before heading to her friend's house, freshman-to-be Maggie heads to a house party where she discovers that her pool boy crush has some depth. And heartbroken college student Scott (Jacobsen) attempts to find himself by romancing attractive twin sisters (Nikita and Jade Ramsey) at their college orientation. The film's easygoing pace and understated nature are to its benefit as debut director/writer Mitchell evokes the drama and impatience that accompanies those tiny slices of independence in a suburban teenager's life. Refreshingly free of guile and gloss, this sincere depiction of growing up is comparable to Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti (right down to the mysterious blonde). Also available On Demand. *** [NR]

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Big Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Patronizing, simply-minded, unbearable.

This review previously appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

What a waste. That's all that came to mind after finishing the star-studded unraveling that is Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Crazy, Stupid, Love. What a waste of talent. What a waste of a promising story. You watch with your mouth agape and your intelligence insulted as good performers sink deeper and deeper into sitcomish misunderstandings and life-affirming speeches disguised as dialogue. No one surfaces.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play Cal and Emily Weaver, high school sweethearts turned longtime married couple. Now in their forties, things have grown stale. He's become immune to the boredom; Emily not so much. As they prepare to order dessert, she requests a divorce. On the drive home from the restaurant, Emily admits to having an affair with a co-worker. Cal responds by exiting the car—as it's moving.

Sweet and meek, Cal moves out and settles into the sad caricature of middle-aged single life: shabby condo, baggy clothes, and a nighttime visit to the local bar, where he bitches and moans about being a cuckold. Cal's vocal self-loathing draws the attention of the establishment's lothario, Jacob (Ryan Gosling). The young man takes pity on Cal, remaking him in his sharply dressed ("Be better than The Gap."), bed-hopping image. It works, only Cal still considers Emily his soul mate, and no amount of nighttime frolicking with nubile playthings can convince him otherwise. Emily misses Cal, but can't get over his new lifestyle, an odd stance for an admitted adulterer.

This is where the movie begins its steep, fatal decline. Cal's forgiveness and Emily's galling hypocrisy can't be overlooked just because they're made for each other. But that's exactly what writer Dan Fogelman (Fred Claus, Cars 2) believes. He doesn't illuminate Cal and Emily's history together, and he certainly doesn't reveal the difficulties in sustaining a long-term relationship. Instead, love will save the day for all! Jake falls for an attractive aspiring lawyer (Emma Stone) who cuts through his ladykiller façade when only their souls are bared during a late-night rendezvous. We must endure a profoundly stupid series of scenes involving Cal and Emily's eighth-grade son (Jonah Bobo) and his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), starting with her walking in on him as he masturbates.

The boy is so in love with her that he publicly states his affection in front of the whole school and shares his feelings on the school's front billboard. Such acts would require a stern lecture from the parents or a visit to the school psychologist; instead, the little creep is painted as a fearless romantic. The older woman, if you want to call a high school senior that, is infatuated with Cal but can't get the words out. Then there's Kevin Bacon, looking lost, as Emily's office paramour. Marisa Tomei, in a scorned-women-are-crazy role more fit for Jerry Springer, embarrasses herself as Cal's first conquest. Snoozy crooner Josh Groban shows up as Stone's "human valium" boyfriend. He fares best. That's not good.

Last year's playful, brainless Valentine's Day glamorized the shallow holiday among a group of attractive Los Angelinos, an approach that Crazy, Stupid, Love. adapts to fragile, damaged souls. This isn't misery romantic? move defies logic, and paints Cal and Emily as soulless pawns, easily answered questions. The couple's problems get buried underneath a pile of pat explanations—Emily wants a divorce because "we haven't been us for a long time"—and distractions: obnoxiously wise 13-year-olds, Gosling's sculpted abs, and a principal cast the size of my senior year class. The last 20 minutes offer everything but Tomei going topless, including a backyard fight involving at least four coincidences so remote that the whole scene could only occur in a fever dream. Afterward, we have to stomach a graduation ceremony that serves as a showcase on how love conquers all.

And offends our intelligence. Every problem in Crazy, Stupid, Love. exists because no one asks questions or talks directly to the responsible party. Problems in a relationship don't get solved with crazy, stupid gestures but by long talks and hard truths. It takes effort, and even then the union may not be saved. (Hell, even Mrs. Doubtfire had the good sense to know that.) Crazy, Stupid, Love. just wants the good stuff. Love, however you want to describe it, doesn't work that way. Neither does anything else in this lazy, condescending movie that turns the term "crowd pleaser" into an expletive. [PG-13]