Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are perfection as Hot Guy and Indifferent Girl in Crazy, Stupid, Love. The family-friendly romantic farce costars Steve Carell and Julianne Moore as Undemonstrative Husband and Disappointed Wife.
Dan Fogelman's script isn't Shakespeare, but the comic beats of one couple coming together as the other comes apart make for a lively quadrille. Add to this mating dance some others who cut in - Carell's son (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on the babysitter (Analeigh Tipton, charming), who has a crush on Carell - and you have A Midsummer Night's PG-13 sex comedy.
Kicked to the curb by his faithless wife, Emily, schlumpy Cal (Carell) drowns his troubles at a swank Los Angeles club apparently peopled by supermodels who travel with their own backlighting. It's here that Jacob (Gosling), suave master of pickup artists, takes the self-pitying Cal under his wing. "I will help you rediscover your manhood," promises Jacob, whose diagnosis of Cal's woman problem is that his baggy jackets are a size too large. Cue the makeover sequence.
Gosling plays Jacob with peacocky self-assurance, practiced opening gambit (flatter her with questions about herself), and capture-the-queen move ("Wanna get outta here?"). This works on every woman he meets - except for the self-possessed Hannah (Stone), a law student who correctly sees him as a player who knows only one play.
Cal is not a quick study. Carell, who specializes in 40-year-old virgins and other slow-on-the-uptake regular guys, plays him with equal parts sexual humiliation and Everyman honor. He scores with one woman (an initially funny Marisa Tomei, fizzy as a pop bottle shaken briskly before opening), but still carries the torch for his wife, Emily (Moore, who did the part of straying spouse with so much more verve in The Kids Are All Right).
Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who made the under-known I Love You Phillip Morris and cowrote the scabrous Bad Santa) have sympathy for all their characters, always a plus in comedy. Yet there's so little zip in the Carell-Moore scenes that it imbalances this intricately plotted comic apparatus.
Stone and Gosling - now there's one sexy couple, more remarkable for the fact that there is nothing explicit in the film. The way they hold the screen - and each other - is the stuff movie dreams are made of. They bite into their parts with such gusto that everyone else - except Tomei and Tipton - looks toothless.
But in the end, Ficarra and Requa take all the formula ingredients and blend them into a satisfying - and tasty - concoction. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, meet All's Well That Ends Well.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.