Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love -- marriage vs one-night stands

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, 2011. (PG-13)

Crazy, Stupid Love is a rom-com, but one with a difference. The couple starts off together, having been married 25 years. The opening scene shows a crowded restaurant, the camera focusing on the feet under tables. Most couples are playing footsie, all except one. The feet of Cal (Steve Carrell, Date Night) and Emily (Julianne Moore, The Kids are All Right) Weaver stay on their own sides of the table. They are discussing what they want: “How about we say what we want on three? One, two, three.” In unison, they declare “Creme Brulee” (Cal) and “I want a divorce” (Emily). The room falls silent, Cal’s mouth drops. He is stunned. After 25 years and children at home, he had no idea. What a way to end a dinner, or start a movie.

Cal takes it like a man. At least, he does not argue or plead with Emily. He does not want hear her talk about the reasons why. Instead, he placidly moves out of the comfortable family home into a small apartment. He believed Emily was his soul mate; now he is not so sure.

Soul-mate is a theme that weaves throughout the movie, from multiple characters cross-generationally. Is there a true concept of a soul-mate? And if so, is there just one? Or can there be multiple soul-mates for a person? The soul-mate is usually thought to be the person with whom we have a deep personal affinity, one with whom we can share the deepest parts of our soul. It speaks to the deepest levels of intimacy. Certainly, if we go that deep, becoming totally exposed and vulnerable we will not likely do it with multiple people.

Biblically, the concept can be found as early as the second chapter of Genesis. When God made Adam he was lonely and God said, ““It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18). To rectify the situation, God formed Eve. She was more than just a helper, she was his life-partner, his soul-mate. In the New Testament the idea of a life-long union of man and woman in marriage connotes a soul-mate relationship (Eph. 5:25-31). Many marriages do not evolve to this level of intimacy, but I believe it is the goal of a healthy marriage. Obviously, if a married person develops this level of intimacy with someone other than their spouse, it will damage if not destroy the marriage.

But Cal’s marriage is in deep trouble. His soul-mate is finding satisfaction and intimacy elsewhere. As he mopes to himself in a chic pick-up bar, hunky, packed-abs bachelor Jacob (Ryan Gosling) hears him and makes him an offer he cannot refuse: “I’m going to help you rediscover your manhood.” He offers no real reason why, but he plans a total makeover. And he teaches him how to be like him, a player who picks women up for sex. One-night-stands are the name of his game.

Along the way, several other characters emerge. Robbie Weaver (Jonah Bobo) is Cal’s 13 year-old son who thinks he has found his own soul-mate, and alternates between encouraging and chastising his dad. Marisa Tomei (The Ides of March) is funny and fierce as a recovering alcoholic who Cal chooses for his first post-Emily conquest. Emma Stone plays Hannah, a young lawyer who at first refuses Jacob’s advances but later aggressively pursues him. Kevin Bacon is sleazy as the home-breaker who wants to weasel into Emily’s life. And John Carroll Lynch plays a friend who has to choose between Cal and Emily, and then is over-ridden by his wife! All in all, these are solid characters with believable flaws.

The film, though, belongs to Carell and Gosling. Their interplay works well and both characters grow through the course of the film. As Jacob molds Cal into his image, Jacob discovers Hannah is his soul-mate, and he in turn becomes more like the early Cal. Which is better? Which is right? The contrast is between love and sex, between marriage and one-night stands. Cal had love and lost it. He moved to casual sex, but found himself unsatisfied and pining for his real love, his soul-mate.

The Bible offers clear advice here. Sex is a God-given gift to be enjoyed in the context of marriage: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Heb. 13:4) The one-flesh union is designed to be between husband and wife. As Paul warned the church at Corinth, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). One-night stands offer instant gratification, but at a price. We are prostituting ourselves and committing adultery or fornication. Such sin harms both man and woman involved. There is no commitment, only sex. There is no love, only lust. Such a union does not deepen intimacy and point to a soul-mate. Instead, it leads to shame and guilt.

As the movie progresses, the directors pull out two key plot twists that are not obvious. Both seem to come from left field but work well to give the movie a complete, almost circular feel. The ending may be predictable, but that is to be expected in the rom-com genre. The journey itself is fun and somewhat unpredictable.

In the end, Crazy Stupid Love does not sugar coat love and marriage. It is work. It will not magically solve all relational problems and make us happy. But the effort is usually worthwhile. The payout is intimacy; the result is a soul-mate there for the long-haul. Don’t settle for casual sex; focus on crazy love. If you have not found your soul-mate, keep searching prayerfully. And when you find him or her, commit to lifelong marriage with a goal of growing in intimacy every single day. That is a worthy goal!

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

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