Like Crazy (United States, 2011)November 03, 2011
Like Crazy is a love story, but not one of those pie in the sky/love conquers all romances. Instead, it's a little more down-to-earth. It eschews Hollywood formulas and seeks to turn a less rose-tinted lens upon the concerns of the protagonists. All that sounds great in theory, but the problems lie in the execution. Although Like Crazy contains some emotionally on-target scenes, the movie as a whole feels glum and artificial. The characters, especially the male lead, are so low key that they're frustrating to watch.
Any romance, regardless of the tone or intent, needs to be established on a solid foundation. Early in the film, we must be provided with appealing protagonists and convinced of the legitimacy of their feelings. This is critical whether the movie is frothy like a generic romantic comedy or grim like Blue Valentine. Unfortunately, that element is missing from Like Crazy. The introductory elements of the love story, so crucial to our investment in the relationship, are absent. There's a perfunctory "meet cute" sequence followed by a montage that encompasses the "getting to know each other" and "falling in love" phases. This is a significant misstep since it limits the degree to which we care about whether the characters end up together.
The protagonists, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones), meet while at college, fall for each other, and move in together. By the end of their final year, they face a separation, since Anna's student visa has expired and she must return to England. Rather than enduring a summer apart, she overstays her visit and is subsequently barred from re-entry into the United States. The two try the "just friends" approach, but their feelings run too deeply for a platonic relationship. Jacob visits the U.K. and they agree to attempt the long-distance thing, which isn't a rousing success. However, although Jacob hooks up with his pretty co-worker, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence), and Anna becomes linked with her neighbor, Simon (Charlie Bewley), they can't shake each other and are determined to find a way to be together.
One of the most aggravating elements of Like Crazy is Jacob's passivity. I like Anton Yelchin but his portrayal of the character is so low-key that it's difficult to summon more than a tentative affinity for him. Felicity Jones is more spirited as Anna, but the interaction between the two is hampered by lukewarm chemistry and a loss of passion. Yelchin, by contrast, clicks with Jennifer Lawrence, even though she has significantly less screen time than Jones. In fact, the central love story is so tepid that we find ourselves hoping these two will be happy with their "replacement" lovers, with whom they seem to be better suited in many ways.
It's also irritating how poorly the characters communicate. It isn't just that the level of technology seems marooned in the '90s, although the presence of iPhones argues against this being a period piece, but basic interaction is lacking. There's no video chatting, webcam sex, or anything similar. London and Los Angeles aren't as far apart today as they were in years past. The most "advanced" their communication becomes is texting and e-mailing. They rarely speak on the phone and, when they do, they reveal nothing of importance. It's as if director Drake Doremus and his co-writer, Ben York Jones, have taken their long distance relationship experiences from a decade ago and ported them unchanged into 2011. When Jacob and Anna are together, the conversations are often stilted and rambling. There are times when improvisation can be a great boon to a movie, giving it an organic feel (Before Sunrise/Sunset comes to mind, as do the films of Mike Leigh), but it has to be used effectively. Here, it's awkward. Like Crazy might have worked better with a fully fleshed out screenplay rather than an outline allowing the actors to fill in the blanks.
There are moments in Like Crazy that ring true. An airport parting when Jacob is leaving England encapsulates all the conflicting feelings that accompany the wrenching separations integral to long-distance relationships. There are also some nice, simple scenes: the two fishing for information about each other's sex lives following a period apart, dinner with Anna's parents (Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston), and a visit to a bureaucrat to resolve Anna's visa issues. Overall, however, it's surprising how a film aspiring to capture the "reality" of a romance can be saddled with so much artifice. The film's entire narrative structure, beginning with the contrivance that separates Jacob and Anna and continuing through their inability to keep in touch despite being hopelessly in love, makes Like Crazy intermittently exasperating and ultimately unsatisfying.
Like Crazy (United States, 2011)
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Alex Kingston, Oliver Muirhead
Screenplay: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Music: Dustin O'Halloran
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Vantage