Like Crazy purports to be an honest look at genuine love pummeled by the hardships of life, but from where I sit, its about a miserable dude who doesn’t know what he wants in life and puts not one, but two beautiful women through emotional hell because of it. And since the one girl poised to be the love of his life is as close to a modern-day Audrey Hepburn as you’re most likely to find, you wonder what the hell his problem is. Perhaps he holds some of the same issues Clint Eastwood highlighted in J. Edgar Hoover? Here’s a movie that wants to hold the final word on young romance in a post-millennial world, yet finding out what exactly that word is turns pretty befuddling pretty fast.
The film tells the story of Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin), college students who first meet in Los Angeles. Anna is a British exchange student studying journalism in the states. Jacob is a design student who hopes to design chairs one day. After encountering him in one of her classes, Anna gives Jacob her phone number and the two begin a courtship of infatuation which consists of conversations over coffee, montages at the beach, and plenty of pillow talk. Anna falls so hard for Jacob that she decides to overstay her visa and spend the summer with him before returning to the U.K.
This decision turns out to bring serious consequences to their relationship. Overstaying your visa is a big no-no with immigration officials, so when Anna returns months later to visit Jacob, she is denied entry into the U.S. Anna is so in love with Jacob that she’s determined to find a way for them to be together. So Jacob visits her in England, but seems reluctant to move his entire life over to another country. Jacob tries marrying her into America, but immigration rules don’t exactly make it that simple. Fate keeps tearing these youngsters apart, and the fact that they occasionally fall into the arms of other lovers doesn’t exactly help matters either. Both parties wonder (and so does the audience) if this delicate love is meant to last in the real world.
There are some movies that are such realistic slices-of-life that you wonder why they even bother being movies in the first place. Director Drake Doremus wishes to strip a young romance down to such a nitty-gritty, naturalistic style that you wonder why he just didn’t hire a documentary crew to follow a real-life couple around. Even then, he’d probably get more livelier dialogue out of that couple instead of the one he’s got here. Jones and Yelchin reportedly improvised their own dialogue based on broad outlines, but nothing they say reveals any true wit or imagination. The result is like endlessly watching that lovey-dovey couple you used to hang with in college, and how entertaining is that? The film lacks the finesse and inventiveness of smart romantic fiction.
So the set-up is True Love facing difficult obstacles, but the uneasy realization that Jacob may not be fully-invested in the relationship harmfully contradicts the initial tone of the film, and not in a terribly insightful way either. Jacob is curiously reluctant to say “i love you” back to Anna for reasons that are never made clear. There’s really no tangible reason why Jacob can’t move to the U.K. so they can live happily ever after, yet he quietly dismisses such an idea. Even after getting married doesn’t get Anna into America, Jacob instantly goes running back to his blonde and leggy ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Lawrence) he went to the last time Anna and him were having issues.
The film leaves us clueless as to what makes Jacob so special in the first place. He’s a self-absorbed mope who doesn’t know what he truly wants and doesn’t have the courtesy to inform the women in his life about this realization. He holds no wit, minimal charm, and no emotional stability. The only thing he’s passionate about is his chair-making business, but even that seems like a contrived trait cooked up by desperate screenwriters. The film makes it very clear that Anna is the pursuer in this relationship, but we can’t figure out for the life of us what she sees in this guy. The biggest mystery within the film is how such a humorless downer of a man could pull both Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence into his orbit (life must be so tough, right?). I have nothing against Yelchin, but not even Paul Newman could act like this with women and expect to get away with it.
At least the performances are spot on though, and not even ill-conceived characters can bring these performers down. Felicity Jones proves to be a real treasure here. With a winning smile and a fragile beauty, you can see why any man would cross an ocean for her. In a time when phony screen-love can be dangerous for any action, she completely sells us on deep romantic-yearning, even if the guy she’s yearning for isn’t worth a damn. A scene where she empties her emotions on a phone-call to Jacob, proclaiming how desperately she needs him, truly is gut-wrenching and touching. And for as useless as I found the Jacob character, I must say that Anton Yelchin is more relaxed here than he is in most films. Yelchin has always come packed with a built-in sensitivity that makes it hard not to like the everyman characters he typically inhabits. I must admit that his gifts here make Jacob less insufferable than he probably deserves to be.
Aside from the performances, and some impressive editing by Jonathan Alberts, theres really nothing of any true substance to take away from this film. There are certain arthouse zealots who reject any traces of commerciality in their art and think that true cinema is films that are as realistic as humanly possible without any technical bells and whistles at all (which is sort of a contradiction when you think about it, for movies inherently can never be real life, ya know?). Those people will probably find much pleasure in this film, although Blue Valentine, a more realized and intelligent flick on the same idea, is actually the movie they’re looking for. Believe me, I can appreciate a film that observes the downside of relationships, but when the characters’ actions defy reason, empathy, and true heart, things can be more baffling than insightful.