Comedian Steve Carell dips his toes in the temperate waters of lo-fi indie-brand dramedy in Crazy, Stupid, Love, the latest film from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the duo who penned 2003’s sleazily sardonic masterstroke Bad Santa and wrote and directed I Love You Phillip Morris (2009).

Carell more or less reprises his character from The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), now as Cal, a mild-mannered approaching middle-age dag who returns to the dating scene after his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) asks for a separation. Cal hangs out at trendy bar, sipping sugary drinks through a straw and stewing in a lonely funk when Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a silky smooth chick pulling machine, takes pity on him and embraces the cumbersome challenge of converting Cal into a ladies’ man.

A new wardrobe and some Miyagi-esque training later, Cal pulls the right moves, rolls out the right lines and beds a bevy of women including Marisa Tomei — who, as an emotionally unstable reformed alcho, proves a less than ideal shag.

Screenwriter Dan Fog had enough interpersonal juice to pen a close-knit story about Cal, his family and his romantic mentor, but opts for a wider join-the-dots ensemble of characters tenuously linked by their “crazy” “love” for each other.

Cal loves Emily; Kevin Bacon, characteristically weasel-like as her office fling, fancies her too; the family babysitter is inexplicably infatuated with Cal; Cal and Emily’s young teenage son declares his love for the baby sitter; and so it goes on.

There are at least a couple of characters too many — saying Kevin Bacon was unnecessarily shoehorned in is something of an understatement — and the manner with which they are connected is flakily contrived. The film has at least one too many “incidental” meet-ups in which the central and supporting characters find themselves brought together by starkly defined intersecting plot-lines. It reeks of smug, transparent, self-conscious writing, and detracts from a bunch of heartfelt and genuine characterisations.

In the crucial role Steve Carell radiates a soft, soulful energy he’s channelled to less success before (Dan in Real Life, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine) and comes teasingly close to nailing the role. He longs to complete the journey from dorky laugh-maker to a serious actor with credibility, that much is obvious, and he has the chops to make it someday.

Carell is a man with the highway blues, you can tell it by the way he smiles, the listlessness in his droopy countenance, the languid unspoken language of a man whose apathy outweighs his empathy. When the right film comes along, he’ll triumph. Crazy, Stupid, Love is a pleasant enough test run.

Crazy, Stupid, Love’s Australian theatrical release date: September 29, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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