Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday. She’s the person that inspired my love of lady movies more than anyone else, so it seemed only right that she gets to pick the movies discussed this week. Because she loves so many chick flicks, she gave me a whole list. I decided to focus on two films on that list starring Steve Carell to create some sort of theme. So, most excellent Mom, please enjoy as we dive into Crazy Stupid Love and Date Night.

Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Josh Klausner
Key Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Mark Wahlberg, Common, Jimmi Simpson

In Short
Phil and Claire Foster, trapped in a rut in their marriage and home life, decide to have dinner in the city. They are late getting to the restaurant and can’t get a table. Frustrated and unwilling to give up on an interesting date night, they take the reservations of another couple, the Tripplehorns. Mid way through dinner, two thugs interrupt them, ask if they’re the Tripplehorns, and demand they go outside. Phil and Claire follow, thinking they’ve been caught in their lie. The thugs threaten Phil and Claire with guns, demanding they hand over a hard drive. Phil and Claire manage to escape, but when they arrive at the police station to report what happened, the thugs turn out to be police officers. In way over their heads, they go to Holbrook, one of Claire’s real estate clients and a contractor for the government. He helps them trace the number the Tripplehorns used for the reservation in hopes of tracking them down, obtaining the hard drive, and clearing their own names. With the crooked cops in hot pursuit, Phil and Claire manage to sort through the conspiracy, which involves a mob boss and a city counselor. Phil manages to craft a plan and impress Claire. The two remember what a good team they can be, and they feel a whole lot better about the state of their marriage in the process.

Movie - Date Night

As Cinema
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this tightly paced action comedy. All the set pieces are exciting, well-directed, and shot like competent action rather than as comedy. Sitting at 87 minutes, perfect for the busy married couples that are clearly its target audience, the comedy is tight and never overstays its welcome. Tina Fey and Steve Carell are incredibly well-paired, and Mark Wahlberg slays as Holbrook. The supporting cast is stacked with everyone from Common to Taraji Henson to Gal Gadot to Olivia Munn to Nick Kroll, and Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wigg do a great job as a couple that brings to light Phil and Claire’s big marital fears. While I think the tendency is to write this off because it lacks a sense of “cool,” Date Night stands up really well and is definitely worth revisiting.

The Horror
So often, when we see harried mothers, they are defined by their tendency to nag. And when we see successful women in movies, even in other Tina Fey joints, their primary flaw is that they’re weird. Claire Foster is, horror of all horrors, an actual human woman. She does not nag, but she has trouble relinquishing control, even to her husband. She’s goofy, but so is Phil, and it’s in a way that feels normal and comfortable. She flirts with Holbrook, but not in a way that indicates she’d ever cheat but instead shows that she’s a woman who is not immune to the charms of muscular shoulders and pecs. The movie takes great care not to blame any one half of the couple for their stagnant relationship; instead, it shows two humans who have let life get the better of them at the expense of the people they love. That emotional honesty drives the humor, and it grounds even the wackiest action sequences by reminding us that Claire and Phil are best when they are working together.

On top of all that, seeing Taraji Henson has a badass lady cop unafraid to confront Ray Liotta’s mob boss or her two corrupt colleagues is a breath of fresh air. She’s not a sassy black lady that takes no shit, but instead another human woman, like Claire, who is just trying to do her job despite being surrounded by incompetence. Her character is special because she comes across like an average person, not a stereotype.

Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Key Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone

In Short
Cal Weaver’s wife, Emily, tells him over dinner that she wants a divorce. She slept with a man in her office, and she’s no longer in love with Cal. Cal is devastated and tries to jump from the car while Emily is driving home. He moves out and proceeds to haunt a neighborhood bar with his sad sack stories. Another bar regular, womanizing Jacob, decides to help Cal regain his manhood and make his wife regret her decision. Cal gets a makeover and learns to be more confident, sleeping with several women, but finding no satisfaction and still missing Emily. After an embarrassing parent/teacher conference in which one of Cal’s conquests turns out to be his son’s teacher, Cal and Emily stop speaking altogether. Jacob meets a beautiful woman, Hannah, and stops coming to the bar. Cal is adrift, and he sets out to win Emily back. However, after creating a mini golf course in her backyard with the help of his kids, it all blows up in his face. Jacob’s new girlfriend is Cal’s adult daughter, Hannah; the babysitter and daughter of Cal’s former best friend gets caught with naked pictures intended for Cal, sending her dad into a rage; and Emily’s affair partner shows up at the house. A fight breaks out, and the police arrive. Emily talks everyone down, but Cal, unwilling to give Jacob a chance or apologize to anyone else, leaves alone. At his son’s graduation, he interrupts the boy’s depressing speech to remind everyone that love is real, and he’s never stopped loving Emily. She takes him back, and he gives Jacob his approval to date Hannah.

Movie - Crazy Stupid Love 1

As Cinema
With a near-perfect cast, Crazy Stupid Love might be a new rom-com classic. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone manage to, with only about 15 minutes of screentime, steal the entire film. But that’s not to say that Steve Carell and Julianne Moore aren’t bringing it — they totally are. But the Gosling/Stone on screen chemistry is on par with Fred and Ginger or Bogey and Bacall, and it’s absolutely magical. Honestly, the only flaw this movie has is that it sometimes shows its budget. Having Cal and Jacob haunt just one bar makes them seem much skeevier than they actually are, and it’s clear that this is a byproduct of a limited location budget and not an aesthetic choice. And while Jonah Bobo is great as Cal and Emily’s son Robbie, his storyline in which he harasses his babysitter for a date comes off a little creepy rather than cute.

The Horror
At face value, this movie seems a little uncomfortable. You have Robbie’s aforementioned wee stalker behavior, Jacob’s pick-up artist-style rules for sleeping with women, and female characters that exist on the periphery, rarely getting a chance to showcase any agency. But context is important. Jacob realizes his mistake and corrects it not because Hannah fixes or nags him, but because he sees her as a human being and not a conquest. Emily cheated on Cal, but she is never a villain. They are both broken and bored and have trouble communicating as a couple, and both of them lash out in really negative ways. It’s her bad luck she got to that point first. She and Cal both forgive one-another for their philandering at the end, and it seems like they may actually move forward in a positive way.

Crazy Stupid Love also manages to turn the ugly duckling story on its head. Cal gets a makeover reminiscent of Pretty Woman’s Vivian or She’s All That’s Laney. By adding a few layers and changing his haircut, he’s suddenly a new man. Although not a byproduct of a bet, Jacob still acts a callous outsider, making over Cal not out of a sense of kindness, but because he’s creating bad energy in his favorite bar. It’s a fun gender reversal of a popular trope, and it gives the movie a fresh, subversive feeling that I think is why it resonates with so many people.

Both these movies are ones that I saw and loved ages ago but got lost in the shuffle. I was super glad to have a reason to revisit them, and I am certain I will again in the future. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to do the same. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than putting on a movie whose sole goal is to make you feel good.

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