Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin give nomination worthy performances in ‘Like Crazy’, the raw and real romantic drama from Drake Doremus. A hit at the Sundance Film Festival and winner of the Audience Award, the movie packs quite an emotional wallop. Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones have created the framework for a heavily improvised but quite effective film about first love and the brick wall that is distance, while neither ignoring the fantasy of love or the reality of life. Jones and Yelchin are doing excellent work here, and Doremus directs the flick with a subtle style that makes this feel like a truly unique experience for the audience. Some might find the style a bit on the cold side, and the clinical take on love that the movie sometimes exhibits is really the only thing holding me back from really raving about it. Aside from that, the film does just about everything right and really is one of the highlights of the year to me. It doesn’t crack my top 10 of 2011 so far, but it doesn’t miss by much. This is truly one of the more special films to hit in a while. The Oscar season is officially here…
During the final portion of their senior years at college in Los Angeles, American Jacob (Yelchin) and Brit Anna (Jones) meet and begin a forcefully strong romantic relationship. Even at the start, the thing looming large over their heads is Anna’s expiring student visa. During a goodbye getaway to Catalina, Anna decides to stay in America and let her visa expire. They’re in love and can’t bear to not be together. This decision comes back to haunt them when Anna goes back to the United Kingdom for a wedding and is detained at Customs when she tries to get back to Jacob. She’s barred from entering the United States and is stuck in England. This leads them to try the long distance thing, but it puts a real strain on their love. At times, they have other lovers in their lives, an employee of Jacob’s named Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) for him and a neighbor of Anna’s named Simon (Charlie Bewley) for her. Both Samantha and Simon really feel for Jacob and Anna respectively, but they’re still crazy for each other. The question is, can all of these struggles really be worth it for first love?
I adored the acting in this film. As previously mentioned, the movie is mostly improvised, adding another layer onto the wonderful jobs that Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin turn in. Both are good enough to be nominated by the Academy, but I only see Jones as having a chance (Best Actor is too crowded for Yelchin sadly). They have an easy chemistry and often convey complex emotions without saying a word. If you put a gun to my head, I’d say that Jones is slightly better, but only because the film tends to follow her for slightly longer than Yelchin. Both are excellent though, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t hurt that they’re well supported by their co-stars. Charlie Bewley is good as Anna’s other man, while Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead are very charming in their few scenes as Anna’s parents. The highlight of the supporting players, however, is Jennifer Lawrence as Jacob’s other suitor. Lawrence is a bit underused, but she has a tremendous scene where she doesn’t say a word, but just reacts to a bad bit of news. It’s just more evidence that she’s one of the best up and coming actresses in Hollywood. There’s also small parts for Chris Messina, Finola Hughes, Amanda Carlin, and co-scribe Ben York Jones. When it comes right down to it, the reason to see this film above all else is for Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, with Jennifer Lawrence to a lesser degree. The acting is some of the best of the year.
A lot of credit goes to co-writer/director Drake Doremus not going with the easy options in making this film. The most interesting choice (and the one that will be a deal-breaker for some viewers) is that Doremus decides to simulate the way real relationships of this sort feel by making the good moments go by way too fast and the more unpleasant ones last forever. The summer of love that Anna and Jacob spend together goes by in literally a flash, and another sequence all but shows Anna waiting at an airport for 6 months. These are unusual choices, but they work real well for me. Another thing Doremus does that is hit or miss depending on who you are is show the relationship out of order and not give any hints as to what stage we’re at except for the cell phones they’re using. It goes all the way from old school clamshells to the sexy iPhone. Less observant audience members will likely lose track of where one scene or another fits into the narrative, and I almost messed up once before figuring it out. It’s not unlike the unstructured approach taken in ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’, though I like this film better than Sean Durkin’s psychological drama. In a way, these are the tools that Doremus uses to make his script that he wrote with Ben York Jones stand out. They aren’t making something with quite the emotional intensity as last year’s ‘Blue Valentine’ (I called that film “emotional napalm”), but more a counterpoint to last year’s ‘Going the Distance’. By filming the movie the hard way and not giving you the easy options, it makes for a more complex flick, and one that demands your attention and emotional investment.
In terms of Oscar, I think the film will only have shots in the Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay fields, but it deserves more consideration than that. Best Picture is a long shot with this new voting style, and Best Actor is as well due to overcrowding. Felicity Jones is definitely in the top 7 or 8 women fighting it out for a nod, and she’s more than good enough here. As for the Screenplay field, the improvisational nature of the film may hurt it. Some films, namely those by Mike Leigh, don’t have trouble scoring nominations with improv, but ‘Blue Valentine’ suffered for it last year. Time will tell how this film gets treated, but the quality is certainly there.
‘Like Crazy’ has a misstep or two (mainly in that you have to not be bothered by the couple ignoring obvious things, like not letting the visa expire or Jacob just moving to England for her), but the good far outweighs the bad. When the film ends, you feel a weight on your chest, and a desire to think more about what becomes of the two as the credits roll. You may not be absolutely crazy about this flick, but I sure was.
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Tags: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Like Crazy, Oscar hopeful