Monday, November 7, 2011

Like Crazy

Like Crazy stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as Anna and Jacob, two college students in Los Angeles who fall in love and, at the last moment, decide to ignore the looming expiration of Anna’s student visa. When she doesn’t return to England as preconditioned, the consequences affect their relationship and this provides the focus of the movie. This set-up at times invites a reaction similar to what one might have throughout a horror picture: “No, don’t do that!” When these seemingly intelligent college graduates try to bypass something as complicated as international law in order to stay together longer, for a relationship that – while passionate and heartfelt – lacks in experience, it’s difficult to fully root for them being together. As such, the movie feels a little predetermined, though not exactly slight.

When Anna does return home, she and Jacob make the effort to keep their long-distance relationship aflame, but when she’s denied reentry into America later that year, this forced separation becomes not only a complication in the relationship, but almost a reason for its continued existence, albeit in a lessened state. Circumstance might seem a weak defense to justify the ending of a relationship, but when it is the driving force of trying to continue a relationship – something to fight against – it becomes even more problematic, questioning the sincerity and impact of what the relationship is based on. It’s akin to Romeo and Juliet: we can’t be together, so we must be together.

There are some stakes beyond the relationship, as both characters find rather quick success in their careers in Los Angeles and London, in jobs actually related to their majors: Jacob in furniture design, Anna in journalism. The characters treat the luck in these endeavors almost as distractions at first, something to tide them over until they can be together, but naturally their work becomes more purposeful and rewarding. Jennifer Lawrence and Charlie Bewley play new romantic interests for Jacob and Anna, respectively, when the primary relationship is at its most strained. Lawrence in particular seems wasted, since she was nominated for an Academy Award last year for her lead role in Winter’s Bone, and here she’s “the other girl.” Both she and Bewley play that delicate summation of “worthy, but…” quite well – Jacob and Anna might completely fall for them if not for each other and their unfulfilled relationship. The addition of these characters is smart, not only because it’s realistic that young, attractive people are going to meet other young, attractive people, but also since this elevates the drama significantly.

Since Anna and Jacob’s relationship was forged in a nearly carefree mindset, with no outside drama or obstacles beyond what is really the simple matter of complying with the student visa, there is not as much value in the permanence of the love story. Much of what we see in the early stages of the relationship, while pretty to look at and probably very familiar, is a bit clich├ęd. There’s no inherent pull to the relationship that might give it and the story more depth. To put it a bit more crudely, while calling into question its relative nature: it’s two young, fairly well-off white kids in love and with good jobs, who can’t be together because one didn’t follow instructions – there might be empathy for them, but little sympathy. To be clear, the movie isn’t trying to solicit this; it shows the mistakes they made in a fair light, and doesn’t cast the protagonists as set-upon, or anything other than young lovers who made a foolish mistake.

Jones and Yelchin are very endearing (my immediate reaction after the movie ended was how to avoid simply repeating “My, Felicity Jones is lovely,” The Shining style, in writing this review); from press notes and interviews, they improvised much of their dialogue, and the naturalistic tone is a further credit to their performances. Director Drake Doremus, who co-wrote the script with Ben York Jones, does a commendable job of allowing certain moments weight that a “bigger” movie might not have: when you’re young and in love, there are things that matter. Like Crazy captures the phenomena that a first relationship and your understanding of it – or lack thereof – provide a heady filter to a lot of seemingly minor incidents. Aside from the performances, this felt to be the real strength of the film: letting certain moments breathe. The rest of the film plays out nicely, and the ending was satisfying (to me, anyway), but there’s just not as much going on as there might be – this is no Blue Valentine, which in my opinion was one of the best films of last year. I would recommend Like Crazy, because it’s still refreshing to see a realistic, modern take on the love story that isn’t entirely romanticized, but with the caveat that, much like the characters can be faulted for, you don’t bring disproportionate expectations.
[Published link: here]

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