This insightful comedy about the hopelessness of love is every inch a ‘fashion film’, both in terms of narrative and thanks to costume designer Dayna Pink’s enviable parade of menswear trends and elegant suiting.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa) stars Steve Carell as Cal Weaver, a middle aged man who has forgotten how to be a man and Ryan Gosling as Jacob Palmer, a bar culture player who helps Cal regain his self respect. Clothes in the film are prioritised over the man. They denote what we wear reflects how we evolve. Or in the case of Cal during the very first scene, how we devolve and are generally the last to notice. As the opening cuts from one couple playing footsie to another, an array of smart brogues and slingbacks flash across the screen. Finally we land on Cal and wife Emily (Julianne Moore); his grubby New Balance 407 trainers and her high heeled Prada sandals.
This is the moment Emily informs Cal she is going to divorce him. Not because Cal is forgoing designer footwear but because he has stopped caring about what he has on his feet anymore. Consequently his lack of awareness reflects on Emily. She feels that Cal no longer believes he needs to try, so how does that make her feel? Worthless. Emily’s cheating on Cal with a work colleague was less a cry for help and more a disgusting betrayal of two decades of marriage, but we could see her point. Showing Cal at his job the next day in a sports jacket, white shirt and tie, khaki trousers and those same 407 trainers, reinforces his lack of appreciation in the sartorial. Clothes mean nothing to him and he does not understand why they should.
Enter Jacob, promptly introduced as the antithesis of Cal. Jacob steps into frame, slow motion, plum three button suit with gold pocket square; he is almost too much, too confident. Indeed, his ‘prey’ in the bland upmarket bar, Hannah (Emma Stone), sees straight through this facade. In a way clothes constrain Jacob, as empathised later in the story when his style gradually loosens; he becomes less constructed in line with a new relaxed, optimistic philosophy on love. At this stage, however, Jacob is a player. Although interestingly that is not what newly single Cal thinks when he spots him from across the room.
Cal takes one glance at Jacob and mutters “gay” before leaving with his tail between his legs. To heterosexual men not interested in fashion or their appearance in general, those who are present a threat. These men must either be branded narcissists or homosexual. For Cal and so many others like him it is a defence mechanism, a reason not to try. ‘I’m not gay or a narcissist, so why bother?’ What this attitude masks is Cal’s obvious jealousy at Jacob. Yet the results speak for themselves – Jacob is never without a ‘date’. This is why Cal takes up Jacob’s offer of a makeover. Why Jacob wants to help of course is somewhat more poignant; Cal reminds him of his father.
What happens next is Pretty Woman for straight men. Following Jacob’s comment to Cal, “You’re wearing a 44 Long when you should be wearing a 42 Regular” (evidenced in the first scene with that baggy corduroy jacket), they go shopping for suits, ties, shirts, shoes, knitwear, jackets and jeans. While Jacob’s wardrobe is Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs (and custom made), Dayna Pink put Steve Carell in roomier yet still tailored suits by, among others, Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna – more befitting a man his age and build. At this early stage in his transformation Cal has a way to go. “I feel like I’m going skiing” he moans under four layers of clothing.
Jacob flings away Cal’s grotty 407’s, which is a symbolic gesture implying he should release all familiarity and comfort in his life. The shopping sequence is amusingly acted by Ryan Gosling who plays Jacob more than a little camp. “You can rebuild your entire wardrobe with like sixteen items!” he excitedly announces with almost a Brüno tone to his voice. Clearly Gosling was having fun with audience preconceptions.
When Cal accompanies Jacob to the bar for lessons in the art of pulling a one-night stand, which basically entails Jacob asserting all single women he approach have an alcoholic drink before declaring “Let’s get out of here”, it is (almost) a disaster. Cal attempts to seduce Kate (Marisa Tomei), an attractive forty-something in a slightly outdated blue dress probably not worn for several years, by insisting she have a drink despite being five years sober. Eventually Cal stumbles his way toward only his second ever sexual encounter by enticing her with a comment once reserved for his wife.
This roundabout successful conquest for Cal opens up a world of single women falling at his feet. Cal’s clothes formalise from knitwear to suits – open neck shirts now like Jacob – coordinated yet not overly meticulous. In style stakes alone, apprentice Cal is infringing on his master, and really it is not as though he has anywhere near as much to work with. Even with a new found irresistibility to women, Cal does not fool his son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) who believes nothing has changed. “You’re not a different guy, you just got different clothes”. But is Robbie actually correct? Cal is confident, has self respect; externally at least he is a new man.
Conversely Jacob has now fallen head over heels in love with the only girl who saw past his pristine veneer, Hannah. Jacob’s clothes relax slightly as he matures from a fitted Confederacy suit with brown accents to a knitted grey polo shirt. His neckline is visible revealing a pendent of two Roman coins oxidised in silver (an original creation of Pink’s). A modern update on the seventies playboy with his hairy chest and sovereign. It is a quiet nod to the real Jacob. He will remain this man at heart, despite evolving into someone no longer defined by his wardrobe but complimented by it.
Suddenly at this juncture a series of revelations occur resulting in a manic, if ultimately superficial punch up between several male characters. After the fight, Cal’s clothes take a downward turn signalling a temporary relapse to his previous self. As Jacob confronts Cal in the singles bar, the former wearing a black Dior Homme v-neck sweater with no undershirt and the latter a grey jersey tracksuit, it is evident which man has progressed and which has reverted to type. Cal is one step away from the man he used to be; the same man who did not even show his wife the courtesy of changing footwear before they went out for a meal together.
Yet any doubt as to where ‘new’ Cal was headed is expunged during the final sequence at Robbie’s middle school graduation. Cal arrives in arguably his finest ensemble, a light grey two button, single breasted suit with no necktie. This is where Cal and Jacob, who is also attending the event with Hannah, meet in the middle. Jacob wears a refined pinstripe suit but with a tie. Early on in the story Jacob never wore a tie; he was more concerned with using his body as a sexy coathanger than creating a meaningful impression. Now he has smartened up having learned that it is not always about him. In contrast, Cal has eased to the point where for him a tie represents the staid conventionality of his old ways, even if he is wearing a custom made suit.
Cal and Jacob have reached a sartorial compromise. Neither man now contrasts to the extreme with everyone else around them. Compare Cal to Emily when he moves out of the family home; she wears fine knitwear and a silk scarf, he wears pale denim ‘mom jeans’ and a chunky cardigan. Cal took Emily for granted and deep down she wanted this because it gave her justification to live out a midlife crisis. In a way their story unfolds in reverse, showing us in the very last scene how they ever could have met in the first place. Cal and Emily really do look good together.
Clothes may not define who we are but they define how other people judge us. Crazy, Stupid, Love does a fantastic job of preaching this concept while at the same time remaining incredibly funny. For gentleman especially, this is the best dressed comedy in years.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 30th January.
© 2012 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.