Learn From This: Crazy, Stupid, Love

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Crazy, Stupid, Love is a mixed bag; on the one hand, it’s emotionally honest about break-ups and infidelity and a surprisingly accurate portrayal of picking up women. On the other hand, it hits several of my personal pet-peeves when it comes to romantic comedies – the inevitable nod towards sex-negative culture by insisting that men who have lots of sex are really just empty inside, the advocacy of the idea that persistance will inevitably win the heart of the one you love and of course, the grand gesture.

Still, it’s surprisingly good-hearted; Ryan Gosling’s Jacob is an inveterate womanizer, but he’s genuinely a good person. Similarly, Steve Carrell’s Cal is a bit of a sad-sack, but in a realistic, relatable way and Julianne Moore’s Emily isn’t the two-dimensional shrew that other movies would have reduced her to. And of course, it has Emma Stone who I have a not-so-small crush on.

Plus Ryan Gosling is absurdly hot.

Seriously. It's not even fair.


And whether you want to look at it as a reflection of relationships, break ups or even the art of picking up women, there’s a lot to learn from this.

Spoilers ahoy!

Be Connected With Your Own Life – It’s no secret from the very beginning why Cal’s marriage is in trouble. From the moment we see him, Cal is so disconnected from his life that he can’t even commit to dessert, never mind spend any emotional connection with his wife of 24+ years. He’s been beaten down by the blandness of his own existence and he’s utterly rudderless. As he puts it himself “I thought I did everything right; got married, had kids, the house.” He’s so detached from his life that he can’t bring himself to have an emotional reaction to the fact that his wife wants a divorce and that she’s had an affair.

It’s not until he starts to break himself out of his life-long rut with Jacob’s help that he starts to act instead of react. Yes, Jacob teaches Cal how to pick up women, but at the same time, Cal has learned to be the active participant in his own life… and he becomes far more attractive to women and puts himself on the road to reconciliation with his wife.

Speaking of…

Cheating Is A Sign That Something Is Wrong – On the car ride home after the fateful confession, Emily is desperately filling in the oppressive silence while Cal sits quietly and seethes. Her rambling confession that she slept with David Lindhagen and repeated entreaties that Cal say something, anything is a desperate attempt to get Cal to react at all. It’s made abundantly clear that Emily is missing the old Cal, the one who used to have passion and life and that his passivity and detachment has left a void in her life. Emily didn’t sleep with David out of an irresistable attraction, because she didn’t love Cal or because Cal wasn’t meeting her needs sexually. Cal wasn’t meeting her needs emotionally and she wanted to provoke some sort of spark out of him, some reminder of who he used to be.

Her infidelity didn’t mean that she didn’t love her husband or that she didn’t even want to fix things. She wanted him to fight for her, and Cal had given up before the fight had even started.

He Who Hesitates is Lost  – Jacob never hesitates. The transition from thought to deed is almost instantaneous; as soon as he sees a woman he’s attracted to, he makes his approach. The ease with which Jacob moves from noticing a woman to approaching her screams confidence, which is part of why he’s so attractive.

Well, that and abs you could do laundry on.

In practical terms, it’s an example of the 3-Second Rule: when you see someone you’re attracted to, you have three seconds until you have to make your move. Taking longer only gives you time to overthink things and psyche yourself out of doing anything. It takes courage to approach a complete stranger and to attempt to convince her to go on a date with you, or even to sleep with you that same evening. By making thought and action one and the same, you force yourself to be courageous and to take a risk.

Win The Friend – Most guys are afraid of approaching women in groups, preferring to try to wait and catch her alone rather than having to run the social gauntlet of her friends. It’s a mistake on their part; handled properly, her friends could be the best friends you could have that evening.

The first time that Jacob meets Hannah, she’s sitting with her best friend Liz. Despite Hannah clearly being his target, Jacob has won Liz over to his side. As Hannah is giving him the brush-off, Liz has become his surrogate and champion, encouraging her to go home with this charming stranger that they have literally just met.  If Jacob had handled things badly, it could easily have gone the other way; Liz could be resentful that her friend is receiving all of the attention. She could be the living cock-block, ruining any chances that Jacob had with Hannah, deliberately or through unfortunate logistics. Instead, by winning her over to his side, Liz has become one of Jacob’s greatest allies in terms of connecting with Hannah; even weeks afterwards, Liz is pushing Hannah towards him.

We Instinctively Chase That Which Runs From Us – Hannah is beautiful, sexy, smart, accomplished and ambitious. But what makes her especially attractive to Jacob is the fact that she’s the only woman in the movie to refuse him. She presents a challenge for him. After all, she’s obviously attracted to him, but she’s still not won over by his good looks, his easy charm, his confidence or his humor. She’s different and that makes her all the more appealing to him. In fact, it’s the way that she forces him to deviate from his usual script that ultimately what makes him fall for her.

Nobody Wants to Hear Your Sob Story – Everybody is the star of their own movie and no pain hurts worse than your own. We all think our pain is important and that it defines who we are. But as important as you think your problems may be, nobody around you cares as much as you think they do or should.

Cal spends literal days at the bar, crying into his vodka cranberry and moaning to everyone in earshot about his failed marriage. He thinks that he’s railing against the unfairness of it all, that everyone around him should sympathize with his horrible plight. Meanwhile, everybody else thinks that he’s a pathetic old man who just needs to suck it up and deal. And they’re not wrong. All his complaining and sobbing does is prolong the amount of time it’s going to take before he finally gets over himself and starts taking actual steps towards getting over his (admittedly tragic) break-up and impending divorce.

Clothes Make The Man – The visual contrast between Jacob and Cal is striking. Everything about Jacob says confidence, style, sex appeal and money. His style says that he is a man who is money and knows he’s money. Cal, on the other hand looks like a sad, broken down figure; he’s so lost and un-prepossessing that he’s disappearing into his own clothes. His bought-on-sale-at-the-Gap suburbanite uniform and Supercuts hair all scream that he’s more mouse than man. Everything about him speaks volumes to his lack of self-esteem and lack of consideration. He’s so unaware of himself that he doesn’t even know what size he wears. Jacob has to force him into upgrading his style, and it pays dividends. By the simple act of exchanging his low end, ill-fitting clothes for a smarter outfit that actually fits properly and a new hair style, Cal looks night-and-day different. Gone is the schlubby divorcee; here instead is the dynamic man of a certain age, newly single and ready to take life on his own terms.

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  • Scott

    Great job Doctor. I think you've done the ultimate service to this film, by giving it actual merit due to all of it's short comings.

    Personally, I didn't like the movie because it drops you right in the middle of the divorce advertised. There's no build-up or true follow through with the dejection that comes from divorce, so you have no sympathy for the female characters. While you are dead on that Cal suffers from the general emptiness and unattractive "forever alone" stance he takes from the issue, you feel bad for him through most of the movie because you don't know what's really gone on. It's feels like Ryan Gosling should be the mascot for the website, because he's practically like the man who we are being taught to be.

    But to be the most fair, this article is about taking real lessons from the mistakes made by the men in this movie. Very understandable human lessons that we can learn from. And not the irritating subplot like the teenage naked photos or the "I think he's gonna prepose to me" story with Hannah. Kudos to you, I can't wait to spread this along.

  • Interesting article as usual, but the part about "We Instinctively Chase That Which Runs From Us" makes a little… uncomfortable. Granted, I haven't seen the movie, but this seems to strongly reinforce the whole idea of game playing; the girl playing hard to get and playing head games.

    The "About Her" part just expands on this… isn't this called 'negging' in the PUA community? Forcing the woman into a place of inferiority where SHE has to prove herself?

    Obviously this stuff does work on women, otherwise it wouldn't be taught, but I've always tried to approach dating as an honest and open experience, not as some sort of subtle form of manipulation, which is what playing hard to get/qualifying/negging comes off as. For me personally, when a guy starts trying to make me prove I'm awesome, teasing me about how I'm not good enough and acting as if I need to impress him…. I'm already heading towards the door, because I take that as a signal that he isn't really interested and just enjoys the ego boost of having women prove themselves to win him. Unless I'm just totally misunderstanding the concept?…

    • Dr. NerdLove

      It's about the girl playing hard to get, it's about being a challenge. We instinctively want things that we can't have, and the fact that we can't have them (whether real or or not) makes them more enticing. It's a technique that works well regardless of gender.

      As for the section on qualification – no, 'negging' is different, and frankly more than a little stupid. The whole idea of "negging" is using little insults in order to demonstrate to a woman – usually a "high-value" one, so one with good looks and social cachet – that you're at the same social level or higher. The theory being that only a man of equal or higher "value" would dare insult a woman on her level. Needless to say, it's not something I advocate.

      If you watch Jacob, he's teasing a girl about what makes her interesting but he also compliments her on it. He's showing appreciation for the aspects of what she has going for her besides her looks.

  • "It’s only when he encounters Hannah – the only woman to call him on his actions and to force him to break out of his usual routine "

    This just spreads the myth of "but i can change him" that i see a lot of women fall into, especially the younger ones that watch a lot of romantic comedies. Sometimes a person can help a person come out of bad behavior, but it's only when it's the person changing themselves for the reasons that have nothing to do with someone else. I have also never, ever known someone to change like that one character sounds like without a major life change, and i doubt a real person like that would change because they met someone who simply called them out. They usually just move on to an easier target for their urges.

    I also question all the faults of the relationship and emotions of Cal being simply his fault. I've been in an abusive relationship (i'm male, the abuser was female, and this type of thing usually ends up as the butt of jokes, but if roles are reversed it's never a laughing matter.) where i was constantly being made to feel in ways that could easily put someone in the state where they simply can't make choices or express themselves for fear of angering the person.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      It's pretty clear from the movie that Cal's disconnect is causing the issue. If you watch Julianne Moore in the scene in the car, every time she says something, she glances over at Cal and looking to see if he's reacting or not. A great piece of subtle acting, by the way. The less he reacts ("Please stop talking"), the more she escalates until Cal gives up and just dives out of the car rather than have to face what's going on.

      Another great – and subtle – key is Emily's first conversation with Lindhagen on camera. She tells him that he's been a good friend and that he noticed when she cut her hair "which is huge". Again: the implication is that Cal has quit paying attention to his wife and noticing the little things. He's taking her for granted and she's starved for an emotional connection.

  • FilmKiller

    "Know Who You Really Are"

    Another way of saying this is that once you know who are – regardless of what that is and even if it's what you've always been – you can have confidence, as Cal does, not because being the loving husband is the only thing he can be, but because it is what he chooses to be.

  • FilmKiller


    These are great, but you should point out the things NOT to learn in the movie too.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Amy

    Ryan gosling looks like Steve Carnell in that picture

  • Tibbs

    You sold me on this movie. I'm watching it right now.

  • Tibbs

    Is it just me or does Ryan Gosling look like a kid who just shat his pants in the above picture?

  • Tibbs

    Finished the movie. The resolution for the 13 year old is incredibly disturbing and sends all the wrong messages.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      That was one of the aspects I didn't care for. Took away from the rest of the movie, which up until that point had kept the Hollywood-isms to a minimum.

      It also sends the message that if you REALLY love someone, go ahead and keep bothering them even after they tell you to stop and that you're making her uncomfortable. They'll come around eventually.

      • Tibbs


        …and give you underage nude pictures.


  • DazzOne

    The whole Hollywood idea of "Soul Mates" is destructive to me. Like Iyanala Vanzant said "you have a 'soul mate'-YOURSELF"!! One of my least favorite tropes.

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  • aly

    1)One of the strongest tools in Jacob’s repertoire is his technique of making a woman talk about herself and explain why she is interested.

    How does he accomplish this and when does this happen in the movie?

    2) He teases her about whatever she says not being good enough, which makes her try even harder to impress him. This is known as qualification, and sets the frame that the woman Jacob is talking to is justifying why he should be attracted to her. She is seeking his approval while he is essentially screening for qualities in women that he’s looking for.

    How does he tease her and when does he tease her in the movie?

    3) It also retroactively justifies her attraction to him; by asking her to qualify herself about what makes her special, he’s convinced her that he knows that she has more to offer than her looks.

    How do u know he is convinced that he knows that she has more to offer? Where did u pick this up from?

  • Glides

    The thing I never liked about the movie is how it completely excuses Julianne Moore's character's behavior. It presents infidelity as a good thing for both her and Carell. Why would you waste your time for someone who clearly doesn't care about you?
    I did like Ryan Gosling's character, although he turned into a whiny little bitch for the second half of the movie.
    Basically amounts to "I'm filthy rich, I'm gorgeous as hell and I can have sex with any woman I want and I'm STILL miserable!" It's only that there's a billion different movies where the exact same thing happens. Screenwriters really suck at writing these kinds of characters generally. Let's face it, if you're miserable even with all of that, you need some serious therapy or something. I know it's a movie, but it's annoying as hell to see characters with no actual problems complain about it.

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  • If it were Cal, cheating it would of course be his fault. His wife could ignite a spark without having to cheat on him like the slut that she is. More Hoywood crap.