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crazy_stupid_love03“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” a new ensemble comedy about love, lust and relationships, features a familiar premise but an unfamiliar performance.

We may have seen the “no matter how old you get you never understand love” storyline before, but “Crazy, Stupid, Love” also offers up something we haven’t been exposed to — a funny performance from star Ryan Gosling.

As man-about-town Jacob Palmer, Gosling, the usually oh-so-serious star of “Half Nelson” and “Blue Valentine,” reveals a previously unseen gift for comedy. The guy very nearly steals the show and that’s saying something considering he’s starring opposite Steve Carell.

Carell is Cal Weaver, a happily married man whose marriage falls apart when his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) tells him she is desperately unhappy and wants a divorce. Now alone, Cal starts hanging around a trendy LA bar where he meets Jacob (Gosling), a handsome slick talker who calls his dates names like “fancy face.” Jacob offers to tutor the newly single man in the art of seduction — “I don’t know if I should help you,” he says to his sad sack student, “or euthanize you.”  — and dressing well. “Be better than the Gap,” Jacob says in one burst of anti-product placement.

What starts out as “Pygmalion” for lounge lizards actually blossoms into a deeper friendship as Cal begins to see the world through different eyes and Jacob meets the girl of his dreams. Interwoven into this storyline are two other tales of love and life — the trials of Cal’s thirteen-year-old son (Jonah Bobo) who thinks his 17-year-old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) is his soul mate and Hannah’s (Emma Stone) search for the right guy.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” is an ensemble comedy that is also a family drama. It’s difficult to speak about the plot in its entirety without giving away some of the story’s pleasures, but it’s safe to say it’s a sex comedy that’s actually not about the sex. There’s lots of talk about sex and even one very funny sex scene and one very touching non-sex scene. This isn’t a prudish movie; it simply uses sex as a springboard to explore all the aspects of relationships.

This is also the movie that should go a long way to erase the image of Steve Carell as that guy from “The Office.” He was masterful on that show and has been good in other movies — particularly as the depressed Uncle Frank in “Little Miss Sunshine” and the title role in “Dan in Real Life” — but here he absolutely nails the mix of comedy and pathos needed to make “Crazy, Stupid, Love” so memorable.

As good as he is — and, for that matter, the rest of the cast including Julianne Moore and Emma Stone — I have a feeling the person everyone will be talking about on the way out of the theatre is Ryan Gosling. He reveals a gift for comedy, a magnificent abdominal area and the ability to take a stereotype and turn it into a living, breathing character. This is a break through performance from the actor who has up till now done his best work in indie films. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is a deeply satisfying movie. Funny, with adult conversations peppered in and great performances, the movie is a throwback to the kind of relationship movies Neil Simon used to write in the 70s. It’s a welcome return to form.

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