It was promising, before the first five seconds. A super-spiffing cast (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, with appearances by Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon and the ever-underrated John Carroll Lynch); a directing team who wrote the delightful Bad Santa…
And then the movie happened. The premise is delivered in inoffensively economical fashion: wife says “divorce”, man says as little as possible, which leads to — wait, why are we now in the company of a teenage girl and a masturbating thirteen year old boy? Leaving aside that, yes, aspiring Hollywood writers, that’s how to write thirteen year old boys, the alarm bells are ringing. Could it be that dreaded beast? The ensemble romantic comedy? Yuuup, we’re jumping over to Emma Stone and her
stalker handsome admirer Ryan Gosling now.
I’ll double-backflip to this momentarily. Suffice to say that, soon enough, Carell and Gosling meet and the premise is complete: Gosling decides to mentor Carell on picking up gurlz. No offence to Gosling – I’m sure he’s great eye-candy for those inclined and the film makes sure to exploit this, but he’s not a great ubermensch for Carell to aspire too. He’s trim, fit, and sanitised to the point of being completely unsexual. Though unintended, this perhaps benefits the story as – backflip – his introduction contradicts his henceforth presentation as a successful ladykiller (montage’d no less). At some point protagonist A will realise the truth. This structure was employed to great effect in the masterful Roger Dodger. Here, not so much. And then it’s abandoned.
Structural horrors aside, it’s the dialogue that makes this film so unpleasant. That Gossip Girl-esque fast-talk punnery that screams “witty” (also, “love me, Daddy!”) that is, in fact, utterly devoid of real intelligence or logic. Don’t be fooled – Sorkin it ain’t. Where the film is enjoyable it’s due to the actors’ escape from the screenplay: a wry glance or smile.
Our other threads find Moore having second thoughts (again and again) about the divorce thing, to Bacon’s discontent; Stone having, like, such a jerk boyfriend for two scenes OMGFML, and being encouraged by existing-when-convenient sidekick friend to pursue Gosling; and finally two kids thinking they’re in love (funny-cute because, as we all know, kids don’t have real emotions) with older people. The latter creates a love
triangle shape that is implicitly Oedipal, which accidentally provides interest in what is a torturous expansion twice over of that fucktard son of Liam Neeson story in Love, Actually, but with no greater depth. Still fuck all then. Likewise, this film’s Kid-Says-The-Darnedest-Things is bafflingly implausible and incredibly annoying as he repetitively declares love – by now a carcass of a subject – and simultaneously nudges his parents together. No Parent Trap shenanigans, sadly.
Strangely, it’s the film’s most ludicrous scene (and real climax) that is its greatest, when all the main players come face to face (by virtue of a twist, coinciding events and contrivance, respectively). All the flaws are in full flow and yet the sheer awfulness takes on an almost self-parodying quality. For a moment you fancy the film to have built to the point where it can play out as a satire of the likes of Richard Curtis’s dreadful film, but as soon as it arrives the moment is gone. For the sad reality is all too clear. Dan Fogelman wrote this film looking to deliver what people like, rather than trusting his own interests, instincts and sense of storytelling. As such, everything is inevitably Forced, Stupid, Contrived.
tldr version: Dump this bitch off a bridge and watch Roger Dodger instead.