Who's In It: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Josh Groban, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Joey King
The Basics: Dorky, middle-aged Steve Carell's marriage is in a rut--symbolized in the movie's opening moments by the New Balance sneakers he's wearing on "date night"--and his wife, Julianne Moore, wants a divorce. Carell moves into a furniture-less, feature-less apartment, goes to the same bar night after night, and says the word "cuckolded" over and over until total stranger Ryan Gosling charges into the dead zone and helps Carell get his game back. Nobody does anything in a movie like this without there being some kind of mid-to-late-film connectivity reveal, so you have that to look forward to. There are also subplots about Carell's son and his crush on the babysitter, the babysitter's crush on Carell, Gosling's crush on Emma Stone and Julianne Moore's... well, nothing. I can't figure out what her character is even supposed to be doing in this movie except wanting some time off from everybody else.
What's The Deal: For a movie this full of warmth and potential--it's often sweetly funny and could have been as intelligent as its characters are presumed to be--there's a vibe-killing sameness and sitcom-like safety that it wraps itself in like a cozy, smothery blanket. It sets up every character in a possibly emotionally risky romantic entanglement--both the realized and the unrequited--and then, instead of letting them unravel, fall down or fail the way real-life folks do every single day, the whispery, yearning indie music fades and the soul-searching sadness clouds part and the happy ending you paid good money for kerchunks its way out of the bottom of the Boring Movie Vending Machine. If that's what you want here's where to get it.
On The Other Hand: It's not hateful. That might seem like a small reward but so much contemporary comedy hinges on mean characters, venom and malice (not that there's anything wrong with that) that it almost feels weird to see nice people trying to be nice to each other. So while might the movie's soft, gentle, unchallenging tone deflates its comedy and relationship to actual human behavior, it's not the kind of thing to get overly worked up about. It'll feel like comfort-viewing on cable when it reaches that final destination.
Oh, But I Love ___________ So I'll See It Anyway: Insert Gosling or Stone or Carell into that statement, whomever's your favorite. I've been hearing that a lot and I understand it. There are plenty of justifications for voluntarily seeing a flawed movie and with a cast this large and this full of friendly faces, and fandom is often reason #1. Of course, with the exception of Tomei's funny performance or the chemistry between Stone and Gosling (all of whom keep their moments working and moving) you might not remember why you cared after it's over.
Where You've Seen Some Of These People Before: Blink and you'll miss her but young Joey King will be memorable to anyone who took their children to see Ramona and Beezus. She was Ramona. And reality TV addicts will recognize babysitter Analeigh Tipton from America's Next Top Model. And if you already knew both of those vital information nuggets then you're a media-obsessed weirdo or else you and I do the same thing for a living. Which still means you're a media-obsessed weirdo.