The movie references (Dirty Dancing
, The Graduate
, The Karate Kid
, even the difference between PG-13 and R-rated sex) that are sprinkled throughout this romantic tale from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris
) are more than mere comedic accoutrements. They are self-referential acknowledgements that in our pop culture-saturated society, the way we define the reality of romance is shaped by our force-fed perceptions of it. This fable about love begins with a breakup. While drowning away his sorrows following the end of his 25-year marriage to Emily (Julianne Moore), Cal (Steve Carell) meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a smooth-talking lothario who volunteers to be Cal's makeover artist ex machina
. Soon, however, Jacob's jaded view of love is turned upside down by a plucky redhead named Hannah (Emma Stone). The thoroughly capable cast embraces a blazingly whip-smart script by Dan Fogelman (Cars
). Still, the film teeters on contrivance and self-absorption during its final stages, capped by an eighth-grade graduation that's hijacked in order to hold a group therapy session.