| Let me be the first to declare the breakout hit of the summer has finally arrived. A refreshingly original approach to the romantic comedy is taken by the directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("I Love You Phillip Morris") from one of the best screenplays of the year written by Dan Fogelman ("Tangled," "Bolt" and "Cars"). The filmmakers manage to adroitly juggle multiple plot threads with genuine and honest storytelling. The subject of love is scrutinized from both a male and female perspective with the matchmaking extending to teenagers, 20- and 30-something singles and a married couple in their mid-40s.
Cal and Emily Weaver (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore) met at age 15 and felt they had found their soul mates. These former high school sweethearts seem to be living the American dream with good jobs, a nice house, great children and 25 years of wedded bliss.
The movie opens with Cal and Emily sitting at a fancy restaurant trying to decide on a dessert. Out of the blue, Emily blurts out "I want a divorce" loud enough for everyone around them to hear. On the ride home, Emily admits she slept with someone from work. Cal is flabbergasted and maintains a stoic silence before rolling out of the passenger seat onto the street while the car is in motion.
They arrive home and announce the news to their 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). They fail to notice that their 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is also in the room.
It so happens that Jessica has a secret crush on Cal. Robbie, in the throes of puberty, declares his abiding puppy love for Jessica.
Recent law school graduate Hannah (Emma Stone) is studying for the bar exam. She and a girlfriend go to a bar. She is approached by a handsome pick-up artist named Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Hannah doesn't fall for his slick act.
Cal moves out of the house and frequents a bar to drown his sorrows. He tells everyone within earshot his sob story.
Jacob, evidently bored by his string of successes with women, decides to take Cal under his wing and help him rediscover his manhood. He teaches him the ropes on how to combat loneliness and attract female companionship.
Jacob stresses that Cal play to his strengths by selling himself as a responsible and stable adult. He has Cal discarding his New Balance sneakers, loose-fitting attire from The Gap, and mood-destroying Velcro wallet. They go shopping for a whole new wardrobe. Cal gets a new hairstyle and goes to the gym. The final touch is for Cal to imbibe in more manly alcoholic libations without a straw.
With the makeover complete, Cal picks up a hot-to-trot English teacher named Kate (a scene-stealing Marisa Tomei). She becomes the first of many sexual conquests effectively shown in a clever montage.
Emily believes she is going through a mid-life crisis. Her one-night stand was with David (Kevin Bacon), an accountant in her office. David keeps pursuing her at work. They go on a dinner date, but when David takes her home everything seems awkward and uncomfortable for Emily.
This movie is so good it will bring tears of joy to your eyes. It balances frank discussions with humorous situations. It doesn't follow the typical romantic comedy blueprint. It is full of unexpected surprises and gotcha revelations. All the characters are well-developed and the separate plot strands are intertwined in a satisfying way.
Carell has never been better and hits it out of the park in this tailor-made role. He comes across as a kind and decent guy who doesn't deserve being dumped on.
Gosling shows off his comedic chops after excelling in prior dramatic roles. He makes you cheer for this sleazy lothario, who shows his vulnerability after a startling transformation occurs.
Bobo is impressive in this breakout turn that puts him on the map of up-and-coming child actors. His character demonstrates a lot of guts in putting his feelings out there and not shying away from humiliation and rejection.
Moore, Stone and Tipton are given less screen time, but come through with natural and believable performances.
The movie's other strengths include tight editing and brilliant pacing. Another sign of an entertaining movie is that you build up so much empathy for the story and characters that you don't want the vicarious ride to end. After the hearty applause at the conclusion of the advanced screening, I am sure many in the audience would welcome a sequel to see what happens next.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"