We’re introducing a new feature: the Pop Culture Has AIDS Career Coach. We’re essentially good people at heart, and we want to help our fellow man. Specifically, we want to help those actors, musicians, directors, writers and athletes who aren’t performing to their full potential. As lifelong consumers of pop culture and purveyors of exquisite taste, we’re uniquely positioned to advise those artists and entertainers that we believe can do better. Today’s protegé: Steve Carell.
This poster, and the film it promotes, represent a lot of what’s gone wrong with Steve Carell’s career. Look at the hackneyed set-up. Look at his wacky, bewildered expression — that’s what Carell is in danger of becoming: just another clown.
Now watch the trailer:
This movie looks terrible, like someone decided Dan in Real Life didn’t include enough power ballads or double entendres. “I don’t know when you and I stopped being us”? Seriously??
The problems with Crazy Stupid Love appear to be manifold: the idiotic “player takes a nerdy guy under his wing and teaches him to pick up babes” subplot, Ryan Gosling’s presence, the dialogue, the tone, and sadly, Carell’s take on a hapless married guy that’s right out of Date Night.
It wasn’t that long ago that Carell seemed untouchable. Fresh off one of the most winning stints ever on The Daily Show (second only to Colbert), a surprisingly effective star turn in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the first couple breakout seasons of The Office, Carell was a rare combination of funny and relatable. His comedy was mildly subversive, but also disguised in an “aw, shucks” exterior. It appeared certain that Carell would become the Tom Hanks of a new generation, riding sitcom success to genuine movie stardom.
Ah, but then….
Then he lingered too long on The Office, until it was well past its prime and his character had been debased.
Then his film roles begin alternating between the maudlin (Dan in Real Life) and the inane (Evan Almighty and Get Smart).
Then he lost the plot.
Carell’s at his best when he seems most human. Think 40-Year-Old Virgin or Michael Scott in seasons 2 and 3. When he veers too far off into slapstick and silliness, he loses us. Think Dinner for Schmucks and Michael Scott in seasons 5 and 6.
A quick peek at Carell’s upcoming projects doesn’t offer much hope that he’ll turn things around anytime soon. So how do we fix this?
Action Item #1: Make a Clean Break With The Office
No reunion specials. No cameos. No desperate appearances mid-season when the ratings are foundering. Carell needs to do with Michael Scott what Ricky Gervais almost did with David Brent (until this year’s breakdown). Our memories of the erstwhile Dunder-Mifflin boss will grow fonder with time. Right now, we can’t help but remember the inconsistent writing, cartoonish behavior and degradation in quality. It’s not Carell’s fault that The Office flew so wildly from the tracks, but as the centerpiece of the cast, he gets the blame by association. I’m sure he’s still great pals with everyone on set, and had the time of his life, etc. etc., and the urge will be strong to pop in once in a while, say hi, grab a beer, and maybe film a couple scenes while he’s at it. Don’t do it. Carell is, right now, a big enough star to open mainstream movies, but that status is in danger if the movies don’t improve. Returning to Scranton will make it seem like he’s a TV star who can’t pull it off on the big screen, despite Virgin’s success.
Action Item #2: Establish Some Indie Cred
I’m not saying Carell needs to go play a murderer in a Gus Van Zant movie, or spend all his time working for scale in films that hope to get a slot at Sundance or Toronto, but it would serve him well to do something smaller. Just one or two films. It would remind the hipsterati why they liked him in the first place, could showcase a slightly different side of him as an actor, and earn him universal goodwill.
Action Item #3: Take a Little Bit of a Breather
This can coincide with Action Item #2. We don’t need to see Carell starring in big-time Hollywood movies thrice a year.
Action Item #4: Pick Your Spots
In other words: stop making shitty movies, no duh. In truth, as bad as it looks, Crazy Stupid Love isn’t that far off from the type of movies Carell should be making. As great as Virgin was, I don’t think he should fall back into the Apatow fold. The more closely his roles hew to reality, the more effective Carell is. He can make movies that are a little more on the dramatic side. He wasn’t the problem with Dan in Real Life: the dopey script was. He just needs to take a step back, avoid shitty remakes of Jim Carrey movies, and maybe work with some talented screenwriters and directors. And surround himself with decent supporting casts, instead of the likes of Gosling and Dane Cook. Remember: ’80s/’90s Hanks is the model here. Gently funny. Recognizably human. Slightly dark around the very edge.
Look into my eyes, Steve. We can do this. Together.