by Ryan Hill

Many critics are proclaiming the romantic comedy is either dead or dying – that the plots have become so ridiculous and convoluted the films themselves are almost an insult to humanity. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” shows not only is there life left in the genre, but with the right touch can be much more than a run-of-the-mill rom-com chick-flick.

This film is a cut above most of its contemporaries because instead of hanging on by some ridiculous premise (e.g. any Katherine Heigl movie), “Crazy” uses the so-old-it’s-new-again strategy of having great characters and even greater dialogue to drive the plot. Even the minor characters were intriguing enough to interest Kevin Bacon and Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei.

Steve Carell is the ringleader of this ensemble comedy, which also includes Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who steals the spotlight right out from under Carell. After playing grueling dramatic roles in “Blue Valentine” and “Half Nelson,” it’s clear Gosling is ready to cut loose. Everybody knew Gosling could act, now they know he can be funny, and at some point he’s going to become a huge star with a mantle full of awards to hang his hat on.

The film follows Cal (Carell) and his family as they try to make their way through life and love, with varying results. The catalyst is the separation of Cal and his wife Emily (Moore), who admits to cheating on Cal, who then goes about life as a listless loser until he meets Jacob (Gosling), a womanizer who goes home with a different woman every night. Sick of the atmosphere Cal’s sadness creates in the bar, Jacob takes Cal under his wing to help him get his machismo back.

The fallout from Cal and Emily’s split should be the dramatic anchor for the film, but directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa struggle with the somber parts, glossing over them to get back to the comedy. It doesn’t kill the movie by any means, but Dan Fogelman’s outstanding screenplay deserves more heft than it was given.

Yes, “Crazy” does fall victim to some of the clichés found in the rom-com genre, especially toward the end, but for the most part the film is smart enough to comment on the ridiculousness of the cliché.

With its great characters and razor-sharp dialogue, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” stands out as that rare studio romantic comedy that fires on almost all cylinders. Last week’s fun-but-cliché-ridden “Friends with Benefits” has great dialogue, but it doesn’t bring the total package like “Crazy,” which is only missing the depth needed to make it a classic romantic comedy.

Grade: 3/4