Release Date: November 11, 2011
Director: Drake Doremus
Writers: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Stars: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The late, great Heavy D once famously asked: “Now that we found love what are we going to do with it?”
That question is at the core of Like Crazy, this year’s Sundance Film Festival Grandy Jury prize winner, which opens in theaters nationwide today. The films centers around two young lovers – Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) – who meet at college, but are then forced apart after graduation. The two struggle to figure out where to go from there. Clearly they are in love with each other, but life keeps getting in the way of their relationship.
Anna is a British student in California on a school visa. She and Jacob fall in love with each other and spend every moment they can together. So when her visa expires after graduation, she makes the foolish decision to stay in America so she can spend the summer with Jacob.
This does not win her any favors with the U.S. Immigration Department, who decide to bar her from returning to America. Further complicating things, Jacob lands his dream job making furniture shortly after graduation, which gives him a reason to stay in California. So the young couple, who clearly feel like they are meant to be together, struggle to find a way to make things work while living in different countries.
The storyline is similar to many Hollywood films, including most recently the Drew Barrymore-Justin Long romantic comedy Going the Distance. But what sets it apart from most Hollywood fare is its gritty take on the subject matter. It doesn’t glamorize things or gloss over the unpleasant parts. Their separation isn’t an easily resolved conflict. Their circumstances and their emotions keep pushing them farther away from each other, but they both share this agonizing longing for the other person that keeps them coming back to their relationship.
At times, you question whether these two even should be together. Sure, you are rooting for them like in most romantic movies, but it does at times leave you wondering if things are so toxic that they should just end their relationship go. They both attempt to move on with their lives and date other people. At one point, Jacob comes to visit Anna in England, ready to move there so that he can finally be with her, but gets discouraged after feeling like she has created an entire life without him and there’s no longer a place for him within her world. It starts seeming like perhaps it simply isn’t meant to be. That’s a complexity of emotions that you don’t often see in films these days.
Simply resolving her immigration woes and getting the two of them together in the same country isn’t the central conflict in the movie. Instead, the issue they really must solve is figuring out exactly what their relationship is and if it is something worth fighting for.
“I thought I understood it,” Anna says early in the film, reciting a poem she wrote. “But I didn’t. I knew the smudgeness of it. The eagerness of it. The idea of it. Of you and me.”
The ambition of the film and the performances by Jones and Yelchin are worthy of all the praise being heaped upon this movie. It feels original and much more authentic than what we’ve become accustomed to these days. In short, it’s the essence of independent filmmaking, which is why it’s no real surprise that this film earned Sundance’s top honor. (Jones also one Best Actress at Sundance.)
However, the film still has it’s flaw. One of the biggest ones is the way the co-writer/director Drake Doremus glosses over the pivotal early stage of their relationship. With that initial bond being so central to the rest of the story, I wish Doremus had done a better job establishing why these two are so in love and why their relationship is so special. Instead, he only gives us a handful of montages and a few short scenes. So when Anna decides to stay in the country over the summer, it seems more like a whim than an uncontrollable longing convincing her to violate her visa.
Also, the way the story unfolds is a bit jarring. The film spans several years in these two characters’ lives (the exact amount of time is difficult to determine). It skips ahead in time often and without warning, relying on dialogue to clue you into the fact that months have passed in their lives. This causes the overall narrative to feel muddled and confusing. At times, you miss what’s happening in a scene as your brain tries to figure out how far ahead we’ve jumped and where these characters now are in their lives.
The film’s overall tone and approach to love may be off-putting to you as well. I think it does a good job capturing genuine emotions and giving a realistic love story, but some viewers may find it overly melancholy or pessimistic. It just depends on what you are looking for in a romantic movie.
Still, with strong performances by Jones, Yelchin and the supporting cast (particularly Alex Kingston and Jennifer Lawrence) and a gritty, emotionally-resonant love story, Like Crazy is a solid film. Like Anna and Jacob relationship though, it’s a flawed, but moving story that you have to look deep inside and decide whether or not it’s right for you.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.