The great American romantic comedy is dead. At least, that was the impression after a series of lacklustre releases all but sealed what was once a popular sub-genre which featured the likes of When Harry Met Sally and The Apartment.
Yet like a phoenix rising, the romantic comedy has risen from the ashes thanks to Crazy, Stupid, Love an apt title for a film which has received both critical acclaim and success at the box office for its silly, sexy and touching tale of love gained, love lost and love without condition.
Steve Carell stars as Cal, a fortysomething husband and father whose life unravels when his wife (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce. Taking pity on him is bachelor Jacob (Ryan Gosling) who helps transform Cal into a bonafide ladies man, only to find himself in his own personal crisis of love.
Carell (who also produced the film) was drawn to the screenplay written by Dan Fogelman (Cars), who took the traditional elements found in romantic comedies and flipped them on their head.
“I thought it was a great script” said Carell. “I thought it was different. It didn’t read to me like a typical romantic comedy when on the third page the character jumps out of a moving car, because he can’t engage in a discussion with his soon to be ex-wife. That really peeked my interest because it spoke a lot about the character and a lot about the relationship with his wife, and it was funny! And also heartbreaking at the same time, so that really set the tone in my mind as to what the movie would be, that it could be both funny and sort of tug on your heart strings, and find a common ground between those two.”
Crazy, Stupid Love was directed by filmmaking duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who made waves with the controversial gay comedy I Love You Phillip Morris a few years ago. With Crazy, Stupid, Love the pair found their mainstream breakthrough deserving of their talents, and as a result they’ve created a film reminiscent of the comedies of Billy Wilder.
“There is definitely some similarities there to that Billy Wilder kind of thing, but it’s hard to avoid that in any kind of romantic comedy I think” said Ficarra.
“Yeah. It’s interesting…Dan (Fogelman) is not like a cinephile at all”, continued Requa. “He is kind of a guy who is a writer, he’s an English major and so none of that stuff is very intentional. It’s just really coming from him. So he kind of mixed things up and used whatever he wants to. He doesn’t feel like the rules hold him back, which is I guess a way to say it.”
Needless to say Carell was a fan of the directing duo, who brought to the project a different type of energy and tone crucial to separate this romantic comedy from the rest of the heard.
“I thought (Ficarra and Requa) were very talented, and in meeting with them we all felt that we shared the same sort of vision for the movie” said Carell. “You never know, because going in we wanted to have a certain tone, and we met with many different directors and they all had varying tones in mind. Some thought it was a much broader comedy, others less so and I thought these two guys had a really good and shared vision at what it could be, again straddling that line between the drama and comedy but grounding it on both sides and not being precious about it.”
“The one thing that we all agreed is that we wanted to, as much as we could, stay clear of all those clichés that you find typically in these romantic comedies, and when we did found them to point to them, and circle them, underline them and say ‘See, this isn’t us!’ Sometimes life reads like a romantic comedy.”
“The one thing that we all agreed is that we wanted to, as much as we could, stay clear of all those clichés that you find typically in these romantic comedies, and when we did find them to point to them."
- Steve Carell
Well, at least Carell’s life does. When the 40 Year Old Virgin star was asked what the craziest thing he did for love, the answer read like a plotline for a movie.
“I drove half way across the United States to surprise my girlfriend, who was actually dating someone else by the time I got there!” said Carell. “That was the saddest, slowest drive back home you can imagine. I saw it in her face when I got out of the car. ‘Hi! I’m here’ and you just know that not only was it a bad idea, but I thought there is definitely someone else involved in this scenario. So that was pretty stupid.”
Yet his heartbreak would be a blessing in disguise, with Carell now happily married for 16 years. So it is no surprise that he describes his wife as his “soul mate”.
“I’ve been married for so long and I guess I define soul mate as someone who makes you feel more powerful” said Carell. “I will never forget on our wedding day when I saw her walk down the aisle, I was filled with a sense of calm, which I didn’t expect. I thought that I would be very, very nervous and ‘Oh my God, I am getting married!’ But it was just the opposite. I saw her and I thought my life is going to be fine because of her. I felt this person will have your back, and I will have theirs….that the two of you would be stronger together than separately.”
With big softie Carell cast as Cal, Ficarra and Requa focused their attentions in casting the other roles with the unlikely choices of Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling (both known for their dramatic roles), along with current it girl Emma Stone, singing on the dotted line to make for an eccentric ensemble.
“I knew Julianne could be funny because she had done 30 Rock in the States, and she had done some romantic comedies earlier in her career” said Ficarra. “But we really needed someone who could handle the drama of that character and make her a likeable character, and understanding that she wasn’t just an evil adulteress.”
“Emma Stone was the one we really wanted to come in for this” continued Requa. “It was interesting at the time people were like. ‘Oh really?’ They weren’t like saying no, but they were sort of like ‘Wow! That’s an interesting choice’. (Laughs) Now she’s as big as Jesus. But that was sort of interesting…it was before Easy A and all of those sort of movies, so her star hadn’t quite ascended yet. We like to say we’re the ones who broke her, but it’s not the case.”
It would be Gosling who was the biggest surprise, the Canadian actor wowing Ficarra and Requa with his on key comedic timing.
“Ryan was a real revelation” said Ficarra. “We heard that he was interested and we jumped at the chance to meet him. We never thought that he could do comedy but the president of Warner Bros knew Ryan socially and said, ‘No, you are going to be surprised’ and within 5 minutes he had us. He was really charming and funny and really into, and he’s a really smart actor.”
"Ultimately I feel like the characters in comedies don’t know that they’re in a comedy, and they shouldn’t act like they are in a comedy." - Steve Carell
With the dramatic style of Gosling and Moore meshing well with Carell and Stone, Crazy, Stupid, Love successfully blends comedy and drama thanks to actors who are wise enough to go with the flow and let Fogelman’s characters do the talking.
“When I first spoke to Ryan (Gosling) about playing the character of Jacob, we talked exactly about this”, said Carell. “Because he’s not known for doing comedy and he said that his approach is that he just wants to play the character, and he’s the one who brought this up when he said ‘I see dramatic actors do this all the time, going into comedies and trying to act funny.’ Trying to do funny things and be silly, because they don’t have the confidence that it’s going to be funny if they just do it.”
“That’s really the way I try to approach stuff” continued Carell. “It’s not about saying funny things or doing funny things, but to try and do it within the character and hope that the character is grounded in a reality that people will identify with and find funny… Ultimately I feel like the characters in comedies don’t know that they’re in a comedy, and they shouldn’t act like they are in a comedy.”
It is that philosophy which makes Crazy, Stupid, Love not only a successful romantic comedy but a wholly original one which celebrates love of all types, an approach which Carell found refreshing in a sub-genre which has become anything but fresh.
“It’s just a different take” said Carell. “It’s about a lot of different types of love. It’s about this couple falling back in love or renewing it, understanding why they fell in love in the first place. But it’s also about Ryan’s and Emma’s characters falling in love for the very first time and how fresh and new, and both of them falling in love with someone in a much stronger way then they probably ever had before with anyone else, like finding that real kind of true love.”
“Then there is the love between the babysitter and the younger boy, and there is also sort of a love between mine and Ryan’s character. A friendship that is grown out of a really awkward partnership, and a very unlikely partnership. So that’s the other thing I really liked about this, is that it’s a rom-com but it many different ways, and not just about a couple. It’s love of family.”