Crazy, Stupid, Love.’s mission is to charm your pants off, featuring a peak Steve Carell, the always amazing Julianne Moore, and the first time pairing of cinematic power couple Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It also manages to pull of the neat trick of lulling you into believing you’re watching a fairly lighthearted ensemble comedy before a 3rd act revelation forces all the characters to face how deeply unhappy and selfish they’ve been. To be clear, this movie is never a pure sap. It begins with the end of a marriage and explores the devastation of the fallout of said divorce. However, the audience is lead to believe a happy ending is a few make-over montages and some lessons in confidence away.
These montages are all courtesy of ridiculously handsome and charming Ryan Gosling, who teaches Steve Carell confidence (and by extension, happiness) comes from a tailored wardrobe, time-tested pick up techniques, and most importantly (for a series about cinematic drinking) the right cocktail.
After his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) announces she wants a divorce and has had an affair (and also that’s she’s deeply unhappy, feels unfulfilled, and some other stuff that her soon to be ex-husband ignores), Cal (Steve Carell) finds himself living in a shitty apartment and getting wasted on vodka cranberries at the local bar that is our main setting for the first half of the film. He just sits there loudly slurring about the man who made him a cuckold, Emily’s co-worker David Lindhagen (a sweet and sympathetic, if undeveloped, character played by Kevin Bacon).
A vodka cranberry is, in general, a terrible thing to drink. It’s often a young person’s first cocktail of choice given that the juice covers the taste of the booze with the only purpose of getting you shit-faced. It’s a bad idea because A) The cranberry “juice” in bars is 99% of the time cranberry juice cocktail. This means they took cranberry juice and added artificial colors, more high fructose corn syrup than should be physically possible, and a witch’s curse ; B) Both vodka and cranberry juice are diuretics, which both prevents your body from absorbing water and expel what fluid you may already have. You’ll literally be pissing the night away and dehydrated; and C) Large Quantities of Sugar + Dehydration = Super Nasty Hangover From Hell.
Given these reasons, it’s appropriate the film uses the Vodka Cranberry as a metaphor for unhappiness. You see, we also meet Hannah (Emma Stone) in the same bar sipping on the tell tale red drink of despair. She seems objectively happy, to be sure. She’s one bar exam away from a successful career lawyer, she has a steady successful boyfriend (Josh Groban), and hangs out with sassy best friend (the always funny Liza Lapira once again unfortunately relegated to the role of mostly-ignored sidekick.)
But we know she’s unhappy because no self respecting person drinks Vodka Cranberries, she doesn’t seem super into her career, and her boyfriend is Josh Groban. Just kidding Josh Groban fans, but his character as written is a boring douche who mostly ignores Hannah and only cares about how she fits into his carefully plotted life plan. She’s also strong willed enough to turn down the advances of the bar’s resident super stud Jacob Palmer (real life super stud Ryan Gosling).
So we have two people at opposite ends of life their life journey drinking the same cocktail of sorrow in the same bar. Can patron saint of bar sex Ryan Gosling save them from themselves. Yes, yes he can. He uses different methods, to be sure, but he’ll save both of these sad beautiful movie stars with nothing more than sexy sexiness and he’ll do it all with a sexy cocktail i.e. The Old Fashioned in his hand.
The Old Fashioned is a marvelously simple yet delicious cocktail. It also signifies an air of old school suaveness thanks to a certain Don Draper. Drinking an Old Fashioned (a potent mix of sugar, bitters, and whiskey) became the hallmark of men aiming to look cool and sophisticated in a bar. Basically, Mad Men did for the Old Fashioned and men what Sex and the City did for the Cosmopolitan and women.
For the first half of the movie, Gosling is holding an Old Fashioned approximately 90% of the time. It never leaves his hand, although miraculously he never appears even the slightest bit intoxicated. Assumably his chiseled body immediately converts the alcohol into testosterone laden pheromones. Gosling always looks like a men’s fashion magazine ad brought to life. I mean, just look at how he eats a giant greasy slice of mall foodcourt pizza:
After the obligatory (and charmingly funny) make-over montage, Gosling proceeds to mentor the newly expensive wardrobe clad Carell in his ways of seduction. These involve buying a woman a drink, deflecting any questions she asks back at her so that she has to talk about herself while the guy remains mysterious, and then taking her home. These methods work, of course, and Carell ends up having his confidence and masculinity banged backed into him by Marissa Tomei’s magical vagina.
Everything is great, we have a classic if fairly sexist romantic comedy, and all we need is Carell is to show how cool and confident he is to his almost ex-wife and win her back and Emma Stone to come back into the movie (she largely disappears while Steve Carell goes around banging women from this hopping hook up bar) so she and Gosling can fall in love and make sexy children.
And that’s when the movie reveals the trick up its sleeve.
Quietly, in the background, every woman character has been miserable because the men in their lives just don’t listen to them. They don’t care about their interests and are viewed as important only in the sense in what they provide for the callous men in their lives. After Josh Groban reveals how oblivious he is to Emma Stone’s emotional needs, she flees to the bar to have sexy sex with Gosling.
The thing is, she’s in control of the situation. She doesn’t allow Gosling to seduce her. She demands to be banged because her current needs involve doing something impulsive, selfish, and more than likely, since it involves Ryan Gosling, physically if not emotionally fulfilling. Gosling doesn’t really know what to do in such a situation, as his many many bar hook-ups have been about him and his wants. Faced with this unprecedented situation he sticks to his playbook, which Emma Stone ruins by analyzing everything he does. The “seduction” scene is fairly amazing, so I present it here in its entirety.
This scene doesn’t end in sexy sex, however, it ends in a long, honest conversation. Two characters, for the first time in the movie, develop a real rapport and respect. They both talk and listen to each other. And it’s during this conversation that Gosling quietly confesses his secret: He’s deeply unhappy. He buys things and seduces women in a futile attempt to fill a void. His entire persona is a facade masking a depressing shallow existence.
So let’s back up to the beginning of the scene. His careful crafting of an Old Fashioned. He makes it exactly how ancient cocktail recipe books demand. Because Gosling is concerned with the “correct” way to be cool, what style guides and Mad Men dictate is the correct way to be a man. After his revelation we realize what that beautiful Old Fashioned actually represents: A toxic blend of old-school misogyny and appearance over substance. He clutches the cocktail as a kind of safety blanket, assuring himself that’s he’s outwardly the best and has domain over all womankind.
He presents this boozy totem of his manly strength to Emma Stone and her response is “that is not my drink”, she knocks it down because she wants to lose control and be dominated. However, after her and Gosling start making a connection, it’s his hands that are empty while she is the one casually sipping an Old Fashioned in bed. He’s lying on his back, vulnerable and exposed, while she leans over him with his signature cocktail in her hands. The dynamic has flipped completely, for now, but on it’s implied they’re on their way to a balanced, nuanced relationship full of mutual respect. And after this scene, Ryan Gosling is never shown drinking the totem of his woman conquering ways again.
What about Steve Carell you ask? Well, his attempts to win back his wife by having a bunch of one night stands backfires tremendously (shocker). Eventually he too learns that he needs to take a more nuanced approach women, including actually listening to their needs. The movie ends with his relationship with Julianne Moore in an ambiguous area, but I like to imagine they both move on romantically, but become good friends and perhaps even emotionally closer than when they were actually married.
This interpretation is somewhat soured by a subplot I’ve been ignoring until now. You see Carell and Moore have this 13 year old son. Believe me when I say this next thing is not a knock on the child actor playing him, but the way the script is written. The kid is a total fucking creep and scary in his relentless pursuit of his 17 year old babysitter. It’s gross, she begs him multiple times to leave her alone. Once he finally gets the fucking hint to just drop it already, he pouts about losing his faith in love.
Given this is a movie about finding love, the script demands that everyone rally to restore his faith, perhaps by finding him a nice girl his own age who wants to be romantically involved with him. Just kidding, everyone rallies to tell him to “just believe in love”, so he goes back to harassing the poor babysitter. That whole unfortunate business ends with, I kid you not, the 17 year old girl giving the 13 year old boy naked pictures of herself. It’s insanely miscalculated on the writer’s part, not to mention super gross and breaks several serious laws (underage pornography and corrupting a minor being the most glaring). Yeesh…
So I recommend every time the future sex offender shows up, use it is an excuse to make an Old Fashioned. Gosling uses a sugar cube, the classic way, but I recommend using simple syrup. It’ll help dilute the whiskey, make the cocktail a bit more palatable, gives you more control over how sweet you make it, and ensures you don’t end up with undissolved sugar. My personal favorite recipe for an Old Fashioned is: 2oz Bourbon, .5oz simple syrup, 3 dashes Angostura Bitter. Pour all ingredients over in a tumbler, give it a small stir and twist an orange peel over the top.