This odd combination of quirky rom com and what briefly seems like darker American Beauty style suburban drama is probably a vehicle for star Steve Carell to transition from comedy into more serious roles. Unfortunately, this uneasy mix of comedy and drama doesn’t entirely work. While it is certainly genial, few of the gags are funny and the drama lacks depth and bite.
Carell plays a typical family man comfortably negotiating middle age when wife Julianne Moore suddenly announces that she’s slept with workmate (Kevin Bacon) and she wants a divorce. Despairing, Carell becomes a whiny fixture at a local pick up joint where he systematically alienates every woman he encounters. That is until he meets over-confident, over-sexed lothario Ryan Gosling who tutors him in the art of sleazing onto women. Meanwhile, Carell’s creepy 13 year old son lusts after his teenage babysitter while she in turn fantasizes about Steve. In an additional and seemingly unrelated story a young lawyer (Emma Stone) struggles with a series of romantic traumas.
Following early promise generated largely by the likeability of Carell and Emma Stone, the film devolves into a listless and mirthless sex comedy. Too many supposed gags sink without trace as the film struggles to find the right tone. What is meant to be the comic slapstick highlight, a backyard fight between all the male characters, is embarrassingly lame and features some of the most unconvincing fighting ever filmed. The only funny moments in this film occur when Carell is allowed to be his old self making totally absurd yet perceptive observations. A manic cameo by the always welcome Marissa Tomei adds some energy to proceedings but she doesn’t feature prominently enough.
Dramatically the film loses its way due mostly to clichéd dialogue and characters who become progressively less interesting and emotionally engaging.
There’s small compensation in the fact that this film is stylishly shot and features some fine music in the form of The Acorn, Talking Heads and The Dead Weather.
Some people will respond more positively than me to what is a mostly charming film but to my mind there’s nowhere near enough happening here to sustain audience interest for the film’s two hours.
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