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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