Yes, he sounds like a superhero. But "Wingman" is something else entirely -- in fact, many things: enabler, decoy, diplomat, discussion coordinator, agent-provocateur, even master of disguise. He befriends the BFF, runs interference, breaks the ice, buys drinks. He's not supposed to win the girl himself. He's just supposed to help win her.
And now Steve Carell, whose characters have so often needed a wingman, is finally getting one in "Crazy Stupid Love," the comedy of questionable manners that opens Friday -- and that presumes to sit squarely astride several genres at once. Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra and written by Dan Fogelman, "Crazy Stupid Love" places Carell -- star of NBC's "The Office" and such comedies as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" -- in his natural habitat, the realm of the Everyman victimized by circumstances and his own sense of embarrassment: When his character, Cal, is dumped by his wife (Julianne Moore), she naturally does it in a restaurant full of people.
But "CSL" also makes use of any number of comedy conventions while tweaking them all: When Cal gets dumped, "CSL" embraces the Spurned Spouse Gambit, which has a few male ancestors but usually involves female protagonists (see story at right). When Cal finds himself in a world that has, sexually and sartorially, passed him by, it becomes a Midlife Crisis Movie (i.e., "American Beauty," "City Slickers," "Wild Hogs").
It then moves into Odd Couple Comedy territory. When Cal's hapless cause is taken up by the infinitely cooler Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), "CSL" transitions into a buddy movie, albeit buddies played by actors who couldn't be coming from more diverse directions. Carell's last feature, after all, was the baggy-pants "Dinner for Schmucks." Gosling's was the marital drama "Blue Valentine."
But that's what Ficarra said attracted them to the movie in the first place. "We like to set up a lot of cliches," he said, "and then zig when you think we'd zag."
"They come from completely different worlds," co-director Requa said of his lead actors, "but we thought that sort of helped with this story."
"The whole thing really explores love from all different angles," said screenwriter Fogelman, whose credits include the animated "Cars," "Bolt," "Tangled" and "Cars 2." With "CSL," he got to work with real people ("If you have to work with human beings," he said, "these are the ones to work with"). After Emily (Moore) announces she wants a divorce, Cal starts drinking and singing the blues -- and confirmed bachelor Jacob makes it his mission to help Cal get over it. As Cal's, yes, wingman, Jacob helps him navigate romantic territories that have grown unfamiliar during his years of marriage and fatherhood.
"It's about how love attacks people," Fogelman said, "and hopefully it's a thing where all these characters surround this Everyman, and there are all these different kinds of love people can relate to: puppy love, unattainable adolescent love, confusion about who to love, relationships going off the rails. Different stories with something tying them together."
That something being Carell, who was the actor Fogelman said he had in mind when he wrote the script. It's easy to see why: Carell usually occupies the space around which things happen. That things would happen to a Steve Carell character is no surprise. The real surprise for audiences via "Crazy Stupid Love" promises to be Gosling, who was nobody's first pick for Jacob, and not because he couldn't play the role.
"A lot of guys were lobbying for the part," said co-director Glenn Ficarra, "and Jeff Robinov at Warners suggested Ryan Gosling. We said, 'It doesn't seem like the kind of thing he would do.' He said, 'You should meet him.' So we did. He was hilarious."
Let hilarity ensue
Requa and Ficarra have a determined idea of hilarious. Their first co-directing effort was the mind-blowing "I Love You Phillip Morris" (2009), in which Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor played felonious gay lovers. Their new movie "is quietly subversive," Ficarra said. " 'Phillip Morris' sort of screamed it from the rafters." They also co-wrote that holiday favorite "Bad Santa" (2003). Early reaction to "CSL" seems to emphasize the unexpectedness of it all, which Fogelman doesn't think should be so unexpected, although he admits that Gosling -- and his interaction with Carell -- surprised him, too.
"It wasn't just how funny he was," Fogelman said, "but how he hung out with Steve and they improvised things and made the dialogue their own." They made everything better, he said.
"In fact, when this movie comes out," Fogelman added, "and people respond to it as I hope they will, I'm waiting for the day when someone says, 'Oh and my favorite line was X' -- and X is going to be something they made up. And I'm just going to take full credit for it."
Dumped but not forgotten
BY JOHN ANDERSON, Special to Newsday
In "Crazy Stupid Love," Steve Carell's character is unceremoniously dumped by his unfaithful wife (Julianne Moore), turning him into a puddle of mush. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Movie men have been dumping unsuspecting movie wives for years, and the gals have managed to bounce back (so to speak), sometimes with aplomb. Here are a few of cinema's more notably betrayed females, who've reacted in all kinds of ways.
THE WOMEN (1939) -- No, not the 2008 remake with Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes and Debra Messing (eeek!). This is the original, in which women behave so cattily, or nobly, you can hardly stand it: Mary, aka Mrs. Stephen Haines (yes, that's how the characters are listed), is played by one of classic Hollywood's greatest anomalies (Norma Shearer) and is being cuckolded by her unseen husband with the pure-evil Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Does Mary/Mrs. Haines fight to keep her marriage intact? No, she pretty much rolls over, while Crystal cuts a swath through the feckless rich men of Manhattan. Kind of unbearable, but fascinating in a time-capsule-ish fashion, in which everything ends happily, if you happen to be an idiot.
AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978) -- Director Paul Mazursky's much-celebrated urban dramedy was perfectly cast with Jill Clayburgh as the privileged Upper East Sider who gets dumped by her oily husband (Michael Murphy). But the film's timing, too, was right on: Women who'd felt left behind by the so-called sexual revolution found a proxy in Clayburgh's Erica, who at first is heartbroken, but then comes to realize all the things she's been missing (like good sex, and Alan Bates). Dated, of course, like most successful innovations.
FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) -- One of the more outlandish aspects of this tawdry Adrian Lyne drama was that anyone would cheat on Anne Archer, but Michael Douglas does, with Glenn Close, and Archer -- after much bunny boiling and other ominous indications of incipient evil -- blows Close away in the bathtub. Cue wifely applause.
DAMAGE (1992) -- Miranda Richardson got a supporting actress Oscar nomination and a New York Film Critics Circle award for essentially one scene, in which her character rails against her unfaithful husband (Jeremy Irons) for the affair that has led to the death of their son. It is one deliciously ferocious example of spousal fury, courtesy of a terrific actress and her late, great director (Louis Malle).
THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (1996) -- All but unspeakable now (and then, come to think of it), this revenge comedy from TV writer Hugh Wilson starred Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton as ex-wives plotting revenge on the men who dumped them for younger women.