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The Civil War

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The 40-Year-Old Virgin is now taking manhood lessons from a Photoshopped-looking Ryan Gosling: not a bad concept, but screenwriter Dan Fogelman ( Bolt, Tangled, Cars 2) alternately nails it and fumbles it.

Breaking Up and Starting Over

Gosling shuts up Carell by giving him manhood lessons
Gosling shuts up Carell by giving him manhood lessons

The Weavers are getting a divorce. Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal (Steve Carell) she wants one — yes, she slept with someone else — and he agrees without a fight, though it’s not what he wants.

Cal drinks alone at a bar, moping about his wife’s new lover to anyone who will listen, and marveling at what a weird word “cuckold” is. Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is trying to operate in the bar, and he gets Cal to shut up by offering him manhood lessons. The “makeover” montage — new wardrobe, new hair, new mannerisms — has been done before (luckily no body waxing this time), but Carell polishes up nice. Next come the pickup lessons. Gosling secretes charm so subtly that his targets don’t have a chance to realize they’re being charmed. For Carell, it’s a little harder, but he manages to take home a few dates, including a desperate schoolteacher (Marisa Tomei).

Rediscovering Manhood

Rediscovering manhood is an interesting idea for a movie. Jacob says that men won the battle of the sexes when women started pole dancing for exercise. But In Cal’s circle, it’s women who won — he is so dominated by his wife that he’ll go along with anything — including divorce — if only to avoid conflict. And his friend Bernie (Boulder native John Carroll Lynch) can’t even console Cal because his wife told him they had to choose sides, and that they were choosing Mrs. Weaver.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.ends up not choosing sides in the battle of the sexes. Yes, Cal needs manhood lessons in order to grow, but it turns out Jacob will need some sensitivity lessons before the end. The script is fair and balanced, but I think Crazy, Stupid, Love.could have been funnier and edgier if it had chosen sides — let Carell need to reclaim his manhood without softening Gosling’s machismo.

Then again, Gosling’s idea of being a man is a little shallow — it’s ultimately about bedding as many women as possible, so there again Fogelman could have done more.

Rounding It Out

Parallel subplots show characters falling for unattainable partners. The Weavers’ 13-year-old son falls for his 17-year-old babysitter, who in turn falls for Cal (believe it or not). A young lawyer waits in vain for her boyfriend, who is already married to his BlackBerry. She ends up at the bar, not terribly interested in Jacob, which makes him desire her all the more. And of course Mrs. Weaver’s fling (Kevin Bacon) is happy that she is now available; although she’s not so interested anymore.

The highlight of Crazy, Stupid, Love.is an unexpected, chaotic scene where all of the various threads come together in a volcano of pent-up emotion. The cast helps sell it, but the scene largely works due to some good timing and a little subterfuge in the screenplay. The scene had my audience laughing in surprise and at the sheer volume of romantic and frustrated release.

Unfortunately, the film runs 15 minutes past that high point, introducing an unnecessary change of heart that has to be overcome before the ending. The final eye-rolling scene involves speeches given by two of the Weavers about lessons they’ve learned, souring the film’s earlier success.

That last 15 minutes reminds us that Crazy, Stupid, Love.was just a throwaway romantic comedy. It has a good cast, some interesting characters, and some worthwhile ideas. But the formulaic execution dulls the edge and leaves the movie less than it could have been.