The movie opens with Cal, Steve Carell, and Emily, Julianne Moore out to dinner. They are middle aged and together long enough that the passion left their marriage a few decades earlier. Cal asks what she wants for dessert, Emily says she wants a divorce. It is far more painful to watch than the similar scene in Mrs. Doubtfire - Cal so utterly shell-shocked all he asks is that Emily stop talking about it, and she is so guilty and unhappy that the only thing she can't do is stop talking. There is no discussion of who moves out, Cal simply does it. He drowns his sorrows in a bar for a few days until he is approached by Jacob, Ryan Gosling's immensely attractive and horridly chauvinistic character.
Jacob takes Cal under his wing after debating whether to 'help him or euthanize him'. Their entire relationship is like this first meeting - Jacob insulting Cal and teaching him how to dress, and Cal going along with it because he has nothing else to do. Jacob successfully makes Cal in his image, making him quite a ladies man, and Steve Carell cleans up well enough that this is believable. At the same time that Cal is sowing his oats Jacob falls suddenly and unexpectedly in love with Hannah, Emma Stone's lovely and hilarious law student.
The acting is what makes this movie so fantastic. The writing alone is great, but left in the hands of less sympathetic actors it would have fallen apart. Ryan Gosling maintains his charisma while being a huge perv, Steve Carell able to be injured even when he is in the wrong. Julianne Moore is so unsure of her own feelings that you just want to hug her and tell her it will be OK. Emma Stone is perpetually bubbly, whether actually happy or angry and drunk.
Jonah Bobo, as Cal and Emily's son Robbie may be the greatest actor in the entire film. He is madly in love with his babysitter Jessica - played by America's Next Top Model alum Analeigh Tipton - and is so sure of himself that we know he must get the girl in the end. At the same time he doing his best to get his parents back together, not because he wants a whole family again, but because he knows that they still love each other and belong together. Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are excellent supporting characters, and I don't think I have liked either of them more in any other film.
The film as a whole was completely satisfying, and I can't really think of anything I didn't like. Well, maybe the scene at the end with the photograph, that was a little creepy. You'll know what I mean when you see it. However, the ending is very good - not 'pat', it isn't 'happily ever after' for everyone, though you do get the sense that it will be happy at some point for most people. Nothing happens quickly in the movie - the pace is not slow, it just happens in a believable way. It certainly had it's heart-wrenching moments, but it also has some stunningly funny ones. Steve Carell gets in a line about Marisa Tomei's character that made the theater practically explode, and there were at least two times that a plot twist - completely unexpected but not ridiculous - shocked me speechless.
This is a movie I would recommend to anyone, male or female, over the age of 13 or so who has ever been, will ever be, or is in a relationship. Or even if you don't like relationships - you can watch this and crow that you don't have these problems. Just go see it.