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This Crazy romantic comedy has character

Crazy, Stupid, Love sets the bar high for future rom-coms

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Now playing at International Village and the Ridge Theatre

There should be ticker-tape at the end of screenings for Crazy, Stupid, Love. There should also be a new award category called "Best Return to Character-Driven Romantic Comedy," and much high-fiving among viewers tired of wallowing in the muck of poop jokes and semen gags.

In short, let's celebrate the arrival of a film that tackles womanizing, adultery, the perils of nude photos and teenage sexual awakening without thrusting it into the lens. It's not prudish conceit that omits such scenes, but acknowledgment that we're adults, and we can read between the lines. No need for panting and groaning, T&A exploits or stains on the front of men's pants: these characters do all these things, but only open their doors to us the morning after.

The King of the Morning After in Crazy, Stupid, Love is Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a ferocious ladies man who can tell a woman that she's boring and leave the bar with her 10 minutes later. He oozes suave and charm without a hint of menace, and the women line up to bed him.

Sad-sack husband Cal (Steve Carell) wanders into the same bar, wailing about how Emily (Julianne Moore), his wife of 25 years, has just asked him for a divorce, and how he's single-handedly bringing the word "cuckold" back. He's either bored with the bar scene or having an altruistic moment because Jacob takes pity on Cal: "I'm going to help you rediscover your manhood," he says, "any idea where you lost it?" "1984," is Cal's reply.

Turns out, the requisite rom-com makeover scene is just as much fun when guys do it: Jacob ditches Cal's New Balance sneakers, buys him slim-fit clothes, and makes him lose the Supercuts haircut. And it works. Cal has new confidence, and a new appeal to women, though his kids know the truth: "You're not a differ-ent guy," 13-year-old Robbie (Jonah Bobo) lectures, "you just have different clothes." Wise words from a kid who has issues of his own, in the form of an unrequited love for his 17-year-old babysitter.

Jacob's dating ethos is challenged by the arrival of Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student whose love life "is sooo PG-13" (evidenced by the stiff affections of her boyfriend, played comically by Josh Groban). Hannah rebuffs Jacob, then leads him into new, uncharted "relationship" territory: now it's Jacob's turn to ask Cal for advice.

An excellent ensemble cast works from a script that doesn't scrimp on tender moments in order to pack in laugh-out-loud ones, though the prolonged kiss-and-make up ending does rob the twist/reveal of some of its potency. Moore takes crying to an art form as Cal's conflicted, lonely wife. And though not a stretch for Carell, Cal represents his best role yet. Emma Stone (who stars in The Help, which comes out next month) is once again the winning girl next door, but it's Gosling who owns the film: his sex appeal is bursting out of those tailored shirts, but who knew the actor was such a comic force?

Owing to the multi-generational love stories at play here-each revered in its own way by a smart, very funny script-Crazy, Stupid, Love is bound to attract a wide audience, while setting the bar for upcoming romantic comedies.