If you’ve been feeling a little listless, perhaps due to the gnawing sense of deficiency in your summer entertainment diet, allow us to diagnose the problem: You may be suffering from an abject lack of sleeper comedies. Each summer, we’ve become accustomed to reveling in the idiosyncratic charms of no-concept films about lovable losers or winners who can’t get out of their own way. We’re talking about little films that could (and did): “Little Miss Sunshine,” ”Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Kids Are All Right.” Yes, “Bridesmaids” technically counts as an underdog comic hit. But we’re more interested in a specific subset of this category — the kind of film that crackles with original characters living their lives, doing their best not to screw them up too badly and being very funny and touching in the process.
This is the purist’s definition of true sleeper comedy. And fortunately, this summer’s dry spell is about to come to an end this Friday with the release of “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” a film nominally about how a dull suburban dad (Steve Carell) enlists the local lady killer (Ryan Gosling) to help him reclaim his mojo in order to win back his straying wife (Julianne Moore). At its heart this is a film about the dumbasses we become when operating under the influence of love. Or maybe it’s about how craziness and stupidity are prerequisites necessary to experience real intimacy. That’s what makes this film, directed by John Requa and Glen Ficarra (“I Love You Phillip Morris”), so interesting — it’s an honest film about reclaiming lost love that doesn’t strain to make you laugh or cry but handily does both, often at the same time.
“Crazy Stupid Love” is far from the first film to explore the contours of the uneasy bond between insanity and amity. In fact, it’s always been such fertile subject matter, it’s amazing it hasn’t become its own genre. We’ve had more than enough buddy comedies. Isn’t it about time studios start slotting in their annual insanity comedies? So, in celebration of this great untapped vein of funny-sad filmmaking, we’ve assembled a sampling of some of our favorite mad love movies through the ages. We specifically limited our list to straight-up tragedies and dramedies, thereby disqualifying the entire ’80s subgenre of stalker thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” and “Single White Female.” The combustible combination of madness and romance is vast as love itself, so feel free to weigh in with your own list of loopy love stories.
Romeo + Juliet (1996): Operatic Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann brought his boundless theatricality to this revisionist rock ‘n’ roll version of William Shakespeare‘s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers. Mad Love Credentials: Juliet fakes her own death so she can escape an arranged marriage to be with her beloved Romeo.
“Harold and Maude” (1971): The ultimate proof of love’s blindness, this weird and whimsical film unites a suicidal rich kid (Bud Court) and a freewheeling septagenarian (Ruth Gordon), who tears into each day of her life with wild abandon. Mad Love Credentials: Harold scares off prospective age-appropriate women with whom his mother sets him up by faking hara-kiri.
“Say Anything” (1989): Cameron Crowe’s anthem to puppy love chronicles the increasingly desperate measures deployed by a young everyguy (John Cusack) in his campaign to win over the class valedictorian (Ione Skye). Mad Love Credentials: Stalking and serial hang-ups turn into increasingly grand and doomed romantic gestures, including standing outside with a boom box blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
“City Lights” (1931): This silent-era masterpiece features Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp, a penniless romantic who falls for a blind girl selling flowers on the street. Mad Love Credentials: The Tramp spends his last cent on one of his beloved’s corsages and then lands in jail after using a rich man’s money to pay for an operation to cure her blindness.
“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995): An alcoholic screenwriter (Nicolas Cage) and a prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) take brief refuge from their downwardly spiraling lives in each other. Mad Love Credentials: Sad, confusing, and exquisitely beautiful deathbed sex.
“Wild at Heart” (1990): Again Nicolas Cage works himself into a lather of pure ardor and takes off with the love of his life (Laura Dern) on a road trip during which his well-intentioned attempts to provide for her land them in a whole mess of trouble. Mad Love Credentials: After being released from jail, he decides he’s not good enough for Dern’s character and walks away inviting a band of thugs to beat the crap out of him. He then chases her down sprinting across the roofs of traffic jammed cars.
“A Woman Under the Influence” (1974): John Cassavetes was and always will be the Mozart of Mad Love. In this verite low-budget drama, Cassavetes’ real life wife, Gena Rowlands, and Peter Falk play a couple whose marriage disintegrates under the strain of their psychological frailty. Mad Love Credentials: Rowlands’ character spends six months in a sanitarium when her fears about losing her husband’s love run amok.
“I Love You Phillip Morris” (2009): This absurdist comedy based on a true story about the world’s greatest conman (played here by Jim Carrey) also happens to be the directorial debut of “Crazy, Stupid Love” directors John Requa and Glen Ficarra. Mad Love Credentials: In order to provide the fabulous gay lifestyle to which the love of his life (Ewan McGregor) had become accustomed, Jim Carrey’s character takes a job using a false identity and embezzles boatloads of cash. He also fakes his own death to spend a few moments with his beloved.