By Alec Calder Johnsson
The greatest problem with most romance films nowadays is that the conflict in them usually stems from some outside liaison. Adultery—or cheating, if you will—is okay as a subject, but as a means of creating tension, it is growing into a cliché. I do not deny that it is a serious issue in real life, but why can’t more films consider questions of how sexuality, or cultural boundaries, or mental conditions can interfere with love? It seems like everytime a screenwriter has trouble finding a way to put a rift in a relationship, (s)he feels impelled to throw in a third party and not explore any other avenue. It is this very trap that Like Crazy, the debut of director Drake Doremus, falls into.
The film stars Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the new Star Trek) and newcomer Felicity Jones as Jacob and Anna, postgraduate students at the same California school; he is American, and she is British. They meet when Anna leaves a love poem on Jacob’s windshield, and he reciprocates interest almost immediately. Their romance is intense and dreamy insomuch that when Anna’s visa expires, she decides not to bother and spends an extra week with Jacob. When she tries to return to the U.S., she is instead held at customs like a Mexican bandit before being shipped back to the U.K.; Jacob and his bouquet of flowers do not get the chance to see her.
So what we have here is a long-distance relationship. The two only see each other whenever Jacob can come across the Atlantic, which is not that often, not least because he makes modest living as a chair craftsman. How do these two alleviate their loneliness? Take a guess. Uh-huh. Jacob ends up with Sam (Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone), and Anna with Simon (Charlie Bewley). What results? Jealousy, mixed loyalties and more loneliness. But you knew that.
One scene shows Simon returning a toaster to Anna in Jacob’s presence; the camera does a swift arc, and you just know that it is going to land on Jacob’s face looking anxious and suspicious. All momentum is lost; even the camera trick has been done before. Another scene juxtaposes the two couples making love in their respective homelands; granted, it is agonizing to watch, and that is the intention, but I could not help but feel that it was all a last resort, like a suicide mission in wartime. There is plenty of pathos but little originality.
The four lead actors are tremendous and do a superb job of supporting rather than upstaging each other—which is crucial in a love story, but actors are not writers by tradition. Doremus—who based this story on real life, though his lady, I was astonished to learn, is Austrian—reportedly gave his actors the fundamental scenario and welcomed improvisation, giving the whole film a hazardously generic tone. The technique’s outcomes are inconsistent, ranging from powerful (a marriage proposal destined to fail) to embarrassing (Jacob summing up British culture with the words “tea and crumpets”).
The overall focus on simplicity also hampers the film’s grasp of time. The opening scenes are rushed and underdeveloped (bumper cars? really?!) and make the blossoming romance more akin to an obsession. Furthermore, the ninety-minute length is inadequate to persuade us of the direction in which Jacob and Anna guide their relationship. I saw Like Crazy at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and when the solution that Jacob and Anna ultimately take to fix their predicament was first suggested, the audience seemed amused, and I was unconvinced. Lastly, I was stunned to learn, from reading another review, that the film is told out of chronological order, leaving the shifting technologies of the cell phones as the only clues to tell us where we were in time. This was not well executed; I was pretty damn sure that the film was linear, and I still believe that it could be interpreted thus. Apparently, the film is so simple that it doesn’t have to be coherent.
I recently saw a Spanish-language film from 2001 called Y Tu Mamá Tambien, which was about two horny guys who drag an attractive lady married to a cousin of one of them on a trip to a remote beach. This film could have succeeded as a metaphor on Mexican politics, but it disappointed me because it could only make itself urgent by having everybody cheat on everybody and ended up numbing. Yet, the critics lapped their tongues over it and heralded it as the start of the Mexican New Wave, an honor that really belongs to the superlative, much less predictable Amores Perros. Now, we have Like Crazy, which is generating Oscar buzz, in particular for Felicity Jones. It is an auspicious debut, and not without emotional resonance—but come on, people. Look closely, and you’ll see everything coming. The honeymoon ends before it begins.
Grade: A+ AA-B+ B B- C+C C- D+ D F