Romance is one of the oldest cinematic genres, and nowadays, there seems to be two main approaches. The first is the very obvious, schmaltzy ‘boy meets girl, both seemingly unaware of their true feelings, but they overcome numerous obstacles, hilarity ensues, and everyone lives happily ever after’. Then, there are the more complicated films that try to put a spin on the genre, either by subverting or deconstructing it, with a far less predictable ending. Like Crazy is most definitely the latter, an attempt to tell a realistic story of two people’s experience of falling in love.
Anna and Jacob (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin respectively) meet during their last months at an LA university. They very quickly fall in love, and are clearly very happy together. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t that simple. Anna is a UK resident on a study visa, which expires at the end of her academic year. The two come up with a plan. Anna will go back to the UK for three months, as is the law, spend the time with her family, and at the end of the summer will come back and find a job in the US. A very sensible plan, as you would expect from two intelligent university students.
Deciding, however, that they cannot bear to spend this time apart, the plan changes, and they decide to ignore the situation, and spend the summer together in the US. Now, this is all very romantic, but it is also sheer stupidity, and where the film lost me within the first 20 odd minutes. Any romantic film, regardless of the plot, lives or dies on audience investment. The protagonist have to be likeable. Anna and Jacob are not. They know the rules. They are university students, so have a brain between them, and can anticipate the potential fallout. Yet they make such a stupid choice, that it is impossible to empathise with them when it comes back to bite them on the backside.
Sure enough, after a long, hot summer together, Anna is caught out after visiting the UK. On her way back into the US, shock horror, she is deported back to England. She cannot return until her ban is lifted, and whilst a lawyer works on her case, the young couple snatch what little time they can together, with Jacob visiting the UK where time and money allows. This where the second problem I have with Like Crazy comes in. There are some decidedly contrived plot devices utilised to keep the couple apart. It is made clear that Anna’s father is paying for Jacob’s trips to England, several times, as he cannot afford the journey himself. Yet the reason Jacob can not move to the UK, which is clearly the answer to the problem, is that he is building up a successful furniture business. It seems we don’t need furniture here in the UK.
Wait, though. If the business is so successful that Jacob couldn’t possibly restart it in the UK, then why is he not able to afford the flights himself? This is not explained. Anyway, as you can imagine, the long distance relationship thing puts a strain on the relationship. The lovers yearn for each other whilst they are apart, yet rarely seem to have any fun when they are together, as their differing lifestyles and interests, and the dread of parting again causes much sniping and disagreement.
Eventually, the decision is made to get married. This should resolve the visa problem, though will take some time to pass through the required legal processes. Marriage does not resolve the problem in a bearable timescale, however, and the couple are forced to live their lives apart for long periods. Both end up in relationships with others, before long, the hurt, hate, fear and insecurity of their situation seems to put an end to the doomed relationship. Despite their apparently waning love for each other, and the successful lives and careers they are building, Anna and Jacob STILL fight to be together.
This is the third problem I have with the movie. The relationship just does not ring true.I’ve known couples who have grown to hate each other. In all these cases, they have stayed together because it is still the easy option. In Like Crazy, however, the two protagonists are living the easy options. They have careers and relationships of their own. Some will argue that they are young, and true love is blind. My argument is that they are not actually that young. They start off at university, and the film spans around four years from what I can make out. This means they are still fighting for a clearly doomed relationship whilst in their mid-twenties. Anyone so emotionally immature at that age would clearly have trouble fitting into society, but both have careers, and friends.
The story of Like Crazy is apparently based on director Drake Doremus’s real life struggle with a love of his life. Clearly, then, there must be SOME truth in it, but that truth certainly does not translate onto the screen. Perhaps the problem is that the script was mostly improvised by the two actors. Maybe if Doremus had put his experiences down into his own words, it may have been clearer exactly why the two leads are so intent on fighting for their love.
Doremus’s passion for the movie is clear in his direction. The film is visually beautiful, with some stunning shots and editing. The film is well paced, with many of the scenes like a series of snapshots of moments rather than a slavish document of the events of the protagonist’s lives. It is this, along with Felicity Jones’ earnest and sincere performance that make Like Crazy watchable. Yelchin has a few good moments, but spends much of the film merely looking tragic. He might call it understated, I’ll call it underacted.
Doremus has obviously worked hard to put out an artistic and realistic vision of a real world relationship. Unfortunately, for me, the act of translating it to the screen has resulted in a slightly contrived story of two unlikable people labouring their emotional immaturity. Like Crazy comes across as less of an endearing love story, and more as an idealised break-up story, if there is such a thing. A well-crafted script could possibly have served the film better. As it is, I think director Doremus was maybe too close to the material to effectively evaluate its inherent problems. Still better than the typical Hollywood romance, Like Crazy is at best a highly flawed work of art.