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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s About Her – 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. 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. 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.
It’s a powerful technique and one that Jacob makes full use of.
Get Over By Getting Under - Cal’s tenuous grasp of his manhood and masculinity takes a massive blow when Emily reveals that she’s cheated on him. As far as he’s concerned, it’s a judgment not just on his relationship with him, but on who he is as a man and as a lover. When Jacob tells him that Emily cheated on him because he lost sight of who he was as a man, a husband and a lover, he’s just giving voice to everything that Cal felt about himself… and Cal desperately fears that he’ll never get that part of himself back. As far as he’s concerned, he’s doomed to an empty, loveless, sexless life.
Under Jacob’s tutelage, Cal proceeds to sleep with a number of women in a short period of time… and this helps him start to come to terms with who he is after splitting from his wife. He’s rediscovered that he does have value to offer to a woman and, in fact, women find him incredibly attractive. It’s a balm to his ego and a boost to his confidence. In fact, it’s because of his experiences with those women that Cal reconnects with the part of him that his wife loved… and had been missing for so long. His renewed confidence and grasp of his identity are what ultimately bring the two of them back together in the end.
Know Who You Really Are - Cal’s loss of his identity as a man has left him floundering around, desperate for something to cling to; he can’t let go of his schlubby attire and old life because it’s all he’s known. If he lets go of that… then who is he, really? When Jacob takes him under his wing, Cal slowly rebuilds his confidence and his identity, opening his eyes to the fact that he isn’t bound by who he always believed he was. The new clothes, new attitude and newfound ease and confidence around women bring profound changes… and also profound discoveries. While Cal enjoys his brief dip into the life of a player, he quickly learns who he really is: a loving husband and devoted family man. It’s the knowledge that this is his true self that allows him to be his best self, without having to give up the aspects that he discovered with Jacob.
Telling The Truth Means Never Having To Remember What You Said The Next Day – Cal lies to his wife – and to other women – a number of times. He tells Marissa Tomei’s Kate that he’ll call when he knows he won’t. He tells his wife that he hasn’t been seeing anyone else when he’s already slept with nine other women. When Kate and his wife come into contact, it’s immediately an ugly scene… one that could have been easily avoided. It’s not hard to understand why he lied. He didn’t intend to hurt anyone… which is why he lied in the first place. Cal’s inexperience makes him nervous around Kate, prompting him to agree to things that he may have meant at the time but felt too awkward to follow up on. Meanwhile, while he was hurt by his wife’s infidelities, he didn’t want to hurt her in return by confessing that yes, he has been seeing other women during their split.
If he had been honest – telling Kate that while he had a great time, he was genuinely conflicted about his wife leaving him and telling Emily that he had been dating… well, it may not have been flowers and rainbows all around, but it would have been decidedly less unpleasant for both women.
Sex and Material Goods Don’t Fill The Hole – Jacob is, ultimately, a lonely man. His family life was cold and devoid of love or affection; while he has all the material trappings of success, he’s as rudderless in his own way as Cal was. His amazing house, incredible clothes, material wealth and success with women are all attempts to find a way to make himself happy… and they do. For a little while. But in the end, it’s all on the surface, and deep within, in the part of himself he tries to keep people away from by deflecting any personal talk, he knows that none of it is working.
As I’ve said earlier, this may be a common Hollywood trope that I hate… but it’s not entirely wrong. Jacob is seeking external validation to make up for the emptiness he feels in his life. 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 – that he feels secure enough to let her in, trading sexual intimacy for emotional intimacy. It’s only then that he starts to understand that he, like Cal, is deserving of love, and begins to heal the void within him.
Falling in love and healing his life doesn’t mean that he has to give up who he fundamentally is – he’s still effortlessly charming and a snappy dresser. But, like Cal, he’s now his best self.
And that’s ultimately who we all want to be.
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