Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chaos Cinema, Abstract Painting, and Sforzandos

I should've seen the warning signs when I read the introduction at the otherwise stellar new blog, Press Play:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play is proud to premiere a new video essay by Los Angeles scholar and filmmaker Matthias Stork. His video essay, Chaos Cinema, should be a welcome sight to anyone who's ever turned away from a movie because of a director's shaky camera.

What's next, aim for people who turn away because of widescreen? Steadicam? Color? Sound? A good policy when publishing (or even reading) criticism is to stay away from something that promises up front to simply reaffirm a theory - not argue persuasively, provide deeper insight, or explore an issue. Just be a small comfort for those who think likewise.

I've linked to the essay in question above in case anyone wants to hear (or read) the prosecution's position, but here's a brief recap. In, "Rapid editing, close framings, bipolar lens lengths, and promiscuous camera movement now define commercial filmmaking." We understand that these are bad things because in his introduction, he praised such films as Hard Boiled, Die Hard, and Bullit for their "classical" style, noting that "the default style of commercial cinema was...meticulous and patient," and that "in the past decade, that bit of received wisdom went right out the window."

Leaving aside the idea that there is anything "classical" about Die Hard's form (the clip he uses to illustrate this point is hardly exemplary for restraint in cutting), has Stork even been going to the movies? The past decade has been loaded with films that employed this so-called "classical" style. A quick perusal of just the films I've seen in the last few years, I came up with Matrix films, Speed Racer, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Punisher: War Zone, The International, the Iron Man films, Captain America, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 2012, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 300, Knight and Day, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Children of MenSuperman Returns, Avatar, and Tron: Legacy. Never mind brief flashes of action in such films as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. These are films in which the primary goal is "keeping you the viewer well-oriented because they wanted to make sure you always knew where you were and what was happening," to use Stork's explanation of the style he prefers. Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men even used a extended tracking shots to ensure success in that area (of which Stork, in citing Hard Boiled's incredible achievement of doing the exact same thing, should be fond).

Okay, but let's pretend he didn't mean that whole business of "they don't make 'em like they used to!" and intended only to point out that a lot of movies are hard to follow, that cinema (a visual medium) should only be employed to communicate facts (this person does this, this person says this, etc.), and that any film that fails in this mission isn't worthwhile. To this end, he says, "Trying to orient yourself in the work of chaos cinema is like trying to find your way out of a maze, only to discover that your map has been replaced by a reproduction of a Jackson Pollock painting, except the only art here in the art of confusion." There are too many qualifiers here to possibly orient myself in this sentence ("no you guys, I know Jackson Pollock was important, don't worry!"), but essentially it's saying that all cinema has to be straightforward, linear, coherent, and literal (which instantly removes Terrence Malick, a favorite director of myself and Mr. Stork, from his own definition of what makes a good movie). And that Jackson Pollock should have buckled down and drawn maps, apparently.

No, honestly, I know what he's getting at here, but he also answered his own concern - Pollock wasn't trying to depict anything literal, instead creating works that produce emotional, visceral responses that come from the thrill of the abstract. How is that any different from Michael Bay's "explosive mixture of out-of-control editing, intrusive snatch-and-grab shots and a hyperactive camera" (I see we're also not fond of the Oxford comma), or the whole of Tony Scott's Domino and Neveldine/Taylor's Crank? Wasn't Pollock's whole point the release of control, and the invitation of the element of chaos into art?

Number 1 by Jackson Pollock

A frame from Bad Boys II by Michael Bay

Two frames from Domino by Tony Scott

I wrote a longer piece centering around Domino, but addressing what Stork terms "chaos cinema" in general, in a piece back in 2009. An excerpt (emphasis added now):
There's a fantastic featurette on the Domino DVD that deals solely with the visual style of the film. Basically, they used six hand-cranked cameras for all of the "manipulated" shots [those in which figures blurred, the contrast was cranked up, etc.]. All of those cameras were loaded with high-speed reversal film, which increases the grain and pumps the reds, greens, and yellows. They would crank the cameras forward and backward to get images to layer over each other, something shooting at different frame rates. The film would then be processed on machines not meant for that stock, and transferred at a high speed, creating streaking and trails. The ultimate goal was to create a texture you can touch, reach, and smell, and to let the mistakes that would happen with reverse-cranking inspire them. Thankfully, the DVD shows some of the dailies, which aren't so different from the final product, indicating relatively little postproduction work on the individual image.
It's fine if you reject Domino on narrative grounds or whatever similarly-ill-suited definition of cinema you employ, but I've never read a convincing argument against it artistically. And there are plenty who try, including Mr. Stork. Look at the frames above, or better yet, skip ahead to the 2:10 mark in the clip below (just after the helicopter crashes, and forgive the subtitles), and tell me if this at all seems like a movie that is worried about telling a straightforward, linear story and communicating its action clearly. Because that's not what I see. I see a full-on sensory assault dedicated to visual abstraction and the destruction of our notions of what cinema should be. Which seems like a pretty decent purpose for art to have (Lord knows that art lovers lose their shit whenever MOMA highlights a painter who did just that).

"A film is not about what it's about, but how it's about it." - Roger Ebert's famous maxim, though I remember reading he actually got it from someplace else.

I also don't know how Domino is even mentioned in the same breath as Paul Greengrass' work (which we'll get to in a minute). The two styles could not possibly be more dissimilar, or used to more different ends, though apparently "cutting a lot" is enough. By that measure, there's really nothing to distinguish Terrence Malick from Wes Anderson - according to the Cinematrics Database, they have comparable average shot lengths, so what's the difference, right? You could argue that Stork is only examining editing patterns, which is true, but he also dismisses the notion that they could ever be used for a purpose.

Unless, of course, the film wins an Oscar. And not one of those crummy "technical" ones.

Predictably, Stork excuses Kathryn Bigelow's work in The Hurt Locker, because that's the movie we're all supposed to line-up and appreciate, right? Never mind thinking about why we all love it so much and if those applications of style could possibly be used in other pictures. His mild-mannered shrug of an admission reveals the fallacy upon which his entire essay is based. He writes:
To be fair, the techniques of chaos cinema can be used intelligently and with a sense of purpose. Case in point: Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. The film uses chaotic style pointedly and sparingly, to suggest the hyper-intensity of the characters' combat experience and the professional warrior's live-wire awareness of the lethal world that surrounds him. Bigelow immerses viewers in the protagonists' perspectives, yet equally grants them a detached point of view. The film achieves a perfect harmony of story, action, and viewer involvement.
So it's okay for Bielow to create a visceral piece "to suggest the hyper-intensity of the characters' combat experience and the professional warrior's live-wire awareness of the lethal world that surrounds him," but when Paul Greengrass uses that same style to immerse us in Jason Bourne's world, it's an abomination? The style isn't always used equally, to be fair (and he's right, Quantum of Solace is a mess), but if there is a marked difference between the way Greengrass employs it and the way Bigelow does, Stork doesn't find it. For him, it's simple - Greengrass is bad, Bigelow is good.

Watch the clip below, particularly the beginning. Here, Greengrass uses rapid-fire editing to follow Bourne (Matt Damon) as he searches for Nicky (Julia Stiles), both of them well aware that Desh (Joey Ansah) is trying to kill her. The shots of Nicky, while hardly up there with Bela Tarr (or even Alfoso Cuaron), are much more patient, quiet, and focused. For Bourne, it's all about what's in front of him, noticing every detail and fast as possible, and barreling forward. For Nicky, it's about keeping quiet and out of harm's way. Different approaches for different intentions, effectively contrasted to create tension.

As for the fistfight that follows, I've heard those complaints too, and all I'll say is that every shot is there to communicate what's happening in that scene. Feel free to go through it frame-by-frame and tell me I'm wrong, but I'll tell you right now, that's a road to nowhere my friends. Directors such as Greengrass (and, yes you bastards, Michael Bay) do assault you with their images, which are - wait for it - sometimes devoid of thematic import - but so did Stan Brakhage, and that worked out okay for him now didn't it. But while Greengrass used his assault to communicate unstoppable force (suitable for super-soldier Jason Bourne), Bay's set pieces are more like classical music, with crescendos, diminuendos, and certainly sforzandos.

Watch - and I mean really watch - the car chase from Bad Boys II. Watch the way Bay punctuates the smaller movements within the larger piece ("Now show 'em your badge!" denotes the transition into stationary firefight, which comes to an end when the track rams into the water tanks), maintains continuity of movement (staying in the cars' perspectives when taking the ramp out of the garage, creating a consistent downward spiral), and allows for an accident to create the perfect abstract expression of destruction (a cop car knocking over the camera, creating a crazy, split-second spiral). Once he's on the freeway, it's build, build, build, build, build, then the car flies over Martin Lawrence's head, followed by a brief respite, until the boat comes and the piece reaches its fiery conclusions. Movements. Crescendos. Pause. Builds. More crescendo. Finale.

"But such exceptions do not disprove the rule," Stork continues, in his line of don't-worry-I-liked-The-Hurt-Locker reasoning, "Most chaos cinema is indeed lazy, inexact, and largely devoid of beauty or judgment." Yes, absolutely. So is most cinema, of any kind, from any era. Stork front-loads his argument by citing movies everyone loves (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Bullit) and comparing them against movies most people agree aren't very good (Quantum of Solace, the first Transformers film, Bad Boys II, Domino, Battle Los Angeles). Even when citing films with great action scenes (Inception, Shoot 'Em Up), Stork only points out the ones that don't work, and he refuses to acknowledge the idea that cinema could be used for pure expression or narrative abstraction. I take issue with his argument, certainly, but he could have at least made it well.

There are other points in his essay that I take issue with, but they're mostly nitpicks (I do wish he would have gone further into dialogue scenes, which are nearly an across-the-board abomination these days, and a subject into which I may dive in the coming weeks).

On his blog, he features a quote from Eric Rohmer that reads, "Every auteur possesses his own style, his own vision of the world, his own poetry," but I see little evidence here that he's ever thought about what that idea really means, and the infinite possibilities it reveals in cinema.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Criterion on Hulu: Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961)

I first saw Through a Glass Darkly in January of 2009. I was living in Boston at the time, and typical to that city in January, the temperature around 20 degrees in the afternoon. I had one of the worst colds of my life, and was running through Kleenex by the box. I don't know what compelled me on that day to watch this (much less make the extra trek home to go to the video store to acquire it), and while it did put me in the right psychological mindset to enter one of Ingmar Bergman's bleakest works, my familiarity with subtitled films made me forget the practical implications of having to read while my face was buried in tissues for half the running time. I thought it a solid addition to Bergman's filmography, the major works of which I was still working through at the time, but not as exceptional as Persona, Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander, etc.

But, hey, what better use for Criterion's Hulu channel than to dive deeper into a major work, and I believe Through a Glass Darkly is just that. The first thing I was taken by was just how watchable this is. Read enough about Bergman and you'll find that keeping the audience attuned and entertained was of foremost priority for him (even if his idea of "entertainment" was a little broader than most), and it really shows here. It's a short film - only 89 minutes - but a film about four people on an island could easily feel a lot longer in different hands. Taking place over the course of only 24 hours, the pacing is appropriate, giving us an insight into just how little time all four people have left together, and just how quickly that can come to an end.

While Bergman could always be counted on for a certain dourness, his collaborations with cinematographer Sven Nykvist (starting with The Virgin Spring, in 1960) took on a different tone than those with his previous cameraman, Gunnar Fischer. Whereas Fischer's images were marked by strong contrasts between white and black, Nykvist's work during Bergman's final monochrome years infused his work with the color (or tone, if you will) gray. Bergman's films don't explore the battle between good and evil as individual forces, but his years with Fischer were strong in symbolism and a sense that there is a moral order to the universe, if only we could find it. His work with Nykvist, particularly in the 1960s, questioned even that, and the overwhelming grayness not only conveyed Sweden's endless winters particularly effectively, but also the notion that there aren't strong forces of good or evil, and that this is all some form of purgatory.

No unhappy accident, then, that Through a Glass Darkly marked Bergman's first venture to the island of Fårö, which he liked for its particular gloominess. And indeed, if ever cinema gave us a place that God rejected, Fårö would be it. Desolate, rocky, perpetually on the cusp of storm, and seemingly uninhabitable (the film is set in the modern day, but the company still heats well water for baths and explore the nighttime by candlelight), Fårö has become my mental image of purgatory, if not Hell itself.

It is just off the shores of the island where we first meet Karin (Harriet Andersson), her brother Minus (Lars Passgård), their father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and her husband Martin (Max von Sydow). Karin suffers, we soon learn, from schizophrenia, and has been going through one of her darker times as of late. Bergman's treatment of Karin and the her struggle with the disease is particularly noteworthy. First, he doesn't define it as such, though the symptoms are clear enough. By expressing the disease not as a medical concern (until the end, when unseen paramedics come to helicopter Karin to the hospital after a particularly nasty breakdown), but rather one of the mind and the soul, and not giving it a name, he allows for the possibility that Karin really has been given window into a deeper understanding of God and the nature of the universe. Or perhaps she has this ability, and her discovery is so overwhelming that it drives her insane. At any rate, Bergman approaches Karin compassionately, showing her breakdowns as an extension of herself, rather than a total transformation.

He also allows her to know she's ill, making her a character we can at once connect to and feel pity for, while still remaining distant enough to be terrified the actions her madness drives her to commit. We come to understand that she can lose complete control of herself because she has such a clear understanding of what happened immediately afterward. If madness isn't committing surprising, unforgivable acts (and Bergman is extremely daring in exploring these depths for his time), but being unable to stop yourself, I don't know what is.

And not nearly enough can be said for Andersson's performance, of which she said, "I was completely happy to play this sick person, to use my negative register and give it all in front of the camera to scream and race... At last I was out and up again!* Among people who embraced me - the more I yelled the more they embraced me... The cage was opened." She makes Karin endearing, terrifying, alluring, and tragic, quite often all at once. Bergman gets a bad rap for pushing his performers to histrionics, but those moments never feel unearned to me, and are part and parcel with his commitment to put all of his feeling onscreen. In performing scenes that could easily have seemed excessive with even a moment of hesitation, Andersson is unafraid to rip apart the seams of her character, just as Karin's mind is being eviscerated by the disease.

*Despite being a regular fixture in his work in the early 1950s, Andersson hadn't been in a Bergman film since Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955 (the same year she and Bergman ended their three-year romance), and had given birth to her first and only daughter not long before filming commenced on Through a Glass Darkly.

Through a Glass Darkly was a rare film that found almost immediate acclaim and has still withstood the test of time. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It has since lived on as part of a poorly-defined trilogy (Winter Light and The Silence followed), a designation to which Bergman regrets giving credence, writing, "the 'trilogy' has neither rhyme nor reason. It was a Schnaps-idee, as the Bavarians say, meaning that it's an idea found at the bottom of a glass of alcohol, not always holding up when examined in the sober light of day." The films could said to all be exploring aspects of faith, but that classification hardly distinguishes them from many of Bergman's other films. And though he once declared that The Silence would be his final film about the nature of God, it would forever be an inescapable part of his career, and was intrinsically tied to Fanny and Alexander, his final film. Nevertheless, Through a Glass Darkly can only be bought on DVD as part of a box set with the other two films in the loose trilogy.

The HD transfer on Criterion's Hulu channel is marvelous, surpassing their DVD edition and practically a benchmark by which streaming video could be judged. The same day I watched this, I also caught Pale Flower on Hulu, and was disappointed by murky, blocky blacks and digital noise, none of which was the case here. It's a flawless representation of the film.

I cannot recommend Through a Glass Darkly highly enough. Years after his death and decades after his heyday, no filmmaker has accomplished what Bergman did so regularly onscreen. He gave us new ways of examining the nature of faith, and through that the nature of humanity. He was the rare filmmaker to approach the nature of God with complete seriousness, but no reverence, and the result examines a world in which God is present, but can never be known. Those who glimpse Him go mad as a result. It's a terrifying perspective on the spiritual universe, but invigorating in its intellectual and emotional rigor. Absolutely essential cinema.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A War That No One Can Win

So I'm mostly onboard the Rise of the Planet of the Apes train. It's smart in how it goes about telling its story, does a good job of not randomly assigning antagonist roles to those who aren't deserving of them (though admittedly, Tom Felton does push things a little far), and its action scenes are surprisingly organic to a story that really doesn't call for them. The characters seem to make decisions of their own accord, not because the plot dictates it, and I'm quite fond of the relationship that builds between Will Rodman and his surrogate son, the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis), not because they build convincing chemistry - they do - but for how their relationship eventually crumbles.

What I'm not so hot on is the ending. As you may have guessed from the title (or the original film released in 1968), the world is going to be taken over by apes. It's going to happen. So how do you create appropriate sympathy for the simian dissidents in a film centered around their uprising without celebrating the fall of humanity? Even without the continuity-required ending, you couldn't exactly make a whole movie to make us feel sorry for super-intelligent apes only to have them gunned down in the end. Either way, you're going to create a feeling of unease.

Which is exactly what they should have done.

I finally saw the original Planet of the Apes the other day (a decade after my local comic shop guy told me I should be ashamed to walk into a comic book store and admit I'd never seen it), and while I obviously knew the ending going in (I had seen Spaceballs after all), I was struck by the note on which it ended. No music, just the wind and the ocean. Desolation. It could've been a moment out of Through a Glass Darkly (if not for, you know, the huge Statue of Liberty). And that's the exact right note to end that film on - a condemnation of the nuclear age in which the film was released, and it perfectly evokes Taylor's personal and philosophical isolation.

The tone wouldn't have been inappropriate in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, either. Instead we get a huge, swelling, triumphant score as the apes soar up into the heavens and survey the kingdom which will soon be theirs. And sure, you can say that it's just a summer film and most of the humans are bad guys anyway, but if you don't think Frida Pinto's going down with that plague or eventually with the fall of the human race, you're selling yourself a bill of goods my friend. What makes Planet of the Apes so effective is that, for as silly as it is (and it kind of is), it takes its story and moreover its purpose seriously. If you trivialize the fall of the human race as a component of popcorn entertainment, you're also trivializing the stakes of the film, thus leaving us without a reason to be invested. The Terminator films always toed this line nicely (haven't seen Salvation), building very entertaining films but never forgetting the enormity of what's at stake. The same could be said for the first Matrix.

Of course, those have the advantage of not needing our sympathy with our enemy, a push-pull that works well in the structure of the Apes franchise.

Like I said, I mostly dug the film, but the ending just reeked of a studio note or screenwriting textbook saying, "always send them out on a high note!" without any regard for the thematic significance of it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Now I've Got My Magic Bus...

Three years ago, I took went on the road for a little more than a week with two friends. It all seemed really romantic from the outset, and all in all, I still had a great time and it's one of those life experiences I wouldn't trade for anything, but the day-to-day drudgery of constant driving, inconsistent bathing, and crammed quarters sort of took its toll on me, so while I'm sure one day I'll make a similar venture, today is not that day. But I still do have a great fondness for life on the road, and more than a passing interest in the counterculture movement of the 1960s, so it came as little surprise than I quite liked Magic Trip, which I reviewed for Battleship Pretension.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (dir. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)

I don't typically nitpick such minor, superficial issues, but let's start with the title Crazy, Stupid, Love. I am not entirely whether or not to use two periods at the end of that sentence, or merely one, because the title does, in fact, include a period at the end (and two commas, which is another grammatical nightmare altogether). Why? Who's to say. It's cute and catchy I guess. But it's also totally phony, contrived, and meaningless. Much, and here's where we get into the meat of it, like the film itself.

Steve Carrell plays Cal, whose wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), has just told him she wants a divorce. I'll commend directors Glenn Ficarra & John Requa and screenwriter Dan Fogelman for this - they set up the characters and the stakes quickly, and with ease. Back at home, Cal and Emily's kids are under the watchful eye of their babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), on whom their son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a crush. On the other end of town, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), your standard-issue ladies' man/womanizer, is trying to pick up Hannah (Emma Stone), who's about to pass the bar exam and, at first, is having none of it (don't worry, she'll come around - the trailer, and common sense, assures us of this).

Cal takes the impending divorce hard, but plays ball - rather than confront the horrible reality, he retreats, accepts Emily's terms unconditionally, and promptly moves out. Drowning his sorrows at the local bar (which, despite Cal stating he's never been in before, seems to be the only bar in town), he meets Jacob, who for no reason in particular decides to take him under his wing and teach him the tricks of the trade. Cal makes a pretty good player at Jacob's game, but is unsatisfied because his soul mate (and yes, the film uses this term many, many times) is still his wife.

But the film is emotionally dishonest long before the talk of soul mates crops up. I don't ask for realism in my cinema, but this is clearly a film about the world we live in today and is aiming for a certain emotional resonance that, say, Bringing Up Baby wasn't all that concerned with. And yet there are so few instances that portray true human behavior, or even a heightened version of same. For example, Cal meets Jacob after the latter calls him over to his table and instantly launches into a whole speech about how he's going to give Cal a makeover. There are a million ways for these two people to meet (the trailer contains a much more believable one), yet Fogelman went the route that would almost certainly result in Jacob and Cal going home together. And not to try on clothes. Or, you know, maybe.

Then there's the matter of Marisa Tomei, who plays a schoolteacher Cal picks up and promptly forgets about, and who later turns out to be his son's English teacher. But rather than act like a sensible adult who could have conceivably taught children anything for more than a few minutes, Tomei (an actress deserving of so much better) goes absolutely batshit insane when she runs into him again at parent/teacher night.

And then there's the matter of every single scene with Robbie, not a single one of which represents any truth about adolescence. Robbie is completely certain of himself and his place in this world - his parents will get back together, because he really wants them to. The man his mom slept with (a suitably, but not excessively, sleazy Kevin Bacon) must be a horrible person, because he slept with his mom (though thankfully, the film does put some of the onus on Emily for this). Robbie even tells him so, something 13-year-olds do all the time, I'm sure. Robbie knows he will someday be with his 17-year-old babysitter (he's 13), it's just a matter of changing her mind. At the end of the film, he vows to never give up in this pursuit, in spite of the fact that she has told him to shove it a half-dozen times. This conflict is introduced by him telling her he thinks about her while masturbating. In the version of this story that bears any relationship with reality, this is called stalking, and Robbie would have a good talking-to, if not several sessions of therapy. In the film, this is the sweetest thing in the world and she gives him some naked photos of herself to tide him over.

Oh yeah, they go there. And it'd almost be a cool, subversive move if the film didn't present it like they just exchanged promise rings.

I could go on and on, but in all fairness, there is one scene that lands and feels true - Jacob and Hannah eventually get together, and share one of the finer getting-to-know-you montages I've seen. It's nice, it's sweet, and Gosling and Stone lend a lot to make this scene credible. But that's it, man. The rest is truly awful, repugnant stuff, both from a storytelling perspective (a third act "twist" revealing a relationship between a few of the characters is needlessly obscured; a declaration of love given to a crowd there to see something else entirely, which, yes, ends in applause) and a moral one.

If you're onboard with the concept of a soul mate, then hey, more power to you. It's not my bag, but neither are a lot of things people believe in this crazy world of ours. My thing is that it's not terribly cinematic, and it's bad enough that our action movies are overrun by the concept of destiny and fate and being the chosen one and now our romantic comedies are too? Screw that. Give me a movie about two people who just like being together, who function well together as a couple, and are in love (again, may I point to Friends With Benefits). If the film declares at any point that anyone is anyone else's soul mate, then it's totally removed the power of choice, and aren't stories supposed to be about people making choices, not fulfilling predetermined destinies? And maybe this is all a little bit heady for the film, but if the film can't handle this, it shouldn't bring it up. And again, it uses this concept to justify near-sociopathic behavior, which is sort of the great failing of many a romantic comedy.

As for the "comedy" part of that, the film earned two honest laughs from me. The audience seemed to enjoy the rest, but I knew within minutes that this was a bad film, and was never presented with any evidence to the contrary. The Gosling/Stone getting-to-know-you bit comes really late in the film, far too late to affect the outcome or save us from anything. With a cast as strong as this, it's tempting to call Crazy, Stupid, Love. an earnest failure or a missed opportunity, but at no point during the running time did I feel like the film was on the right track. To make a good film from this would require it to be an entirely different film.