I have problems when I watch “The Office” sometimes. Not because of the dull, plodding mess that it’s become (though that hasn’t helped), but because of its love affair with awkwardness. I cringe whenever someone launches into a scene where they make fool of themselves. Sometimes I’m forced to cover my face, or take a lap around my room. I empathize with the characters so powerfully that I physically can’t take it. Oftentimes, if the remote’s in reach (I try and chuck it across the room so I can’t do this), I’ll pause a scene several times, working through it in little bits and pieces. I can’t help myself.
This condition is known as vicarious embarrassment, and man, do I have it. It’s better when I watch these shows in a room with other people, and the embarrassment is abated by having people there with me. But it’s always there.
I had a little bit of trouble getting through Crazy, Stupid, Love. It’s not the characters are placed in scenes that are overwhelmingly embarrassing – it’s more that the scenes are unnecessarily embarrassing. People keep announcing personal things in front of large groups for no reason. Every display of affection is a public one. The title of this movie is supposed to indicate that love is lived out loud, but after watching this movie, I’m less and less convinced about that. Everyone seems like their life would be better if they had a quiet talk about how they felt over a cup of coffee somewhere. But they don’t, not when there’s loud displays of affection to be announced in the midst of middle school graduation ceremonies! The plot of this movie hangs on the belief that enough shouting and passionate makeouts with strangers can awaken love. That is a fragile frame upon which to hang a film.
But weirdly, the movie works. And the reason it works is because the actors in it are absolutely, totally sold out to their characters. You believe every word they say, no matter what it is. I’m a fan of all the actors in this picture, but there’s no question that directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa managed to get their very best performances out of them. They also managed to work in a fairly shocking reveal at the end without ever tipping their hand earlier in the film, showing real storytelling deftness.
After seven years as Michael Scott, Steve Carrell is perhaps now unparalleled among modern movie stars as the master of awkward comedy. But this movie shows why he doesn’t have to be. I’ll watch him in almost anything.
Also, I’m trying to avoid awkward comedies these days. I’m gonna break the remote one of these days if I keep chucking it across the room.