Romantic love is an odd (albeit wonderful) thing. It’s weird. It’s irrational. It’s essential. It’s an intense emotional state full of everything, but yet fundamentally, and quite necessarily, vague. Whether in the throes of it yourself or observing it from afar, romantic love can seem like a scrim of clouds at dusk – gifted with colorful beauty by a softening light, scrambling for distinct function before a darkening sky and a flossed imaginary wool tinged with bits of an ineffable poetry that are deeply felt but forever in the distance.
That image of amorphous clouds kept coming into view while watching Like Crazy, Drake Doremus’s Sundance-celebrated 2011 film. For this is a movie as lovely and diffuse as a late day’s sky and as equally frustrating for leaving its promise of something more meaningful out on the horizon. Like Crazy is really a well-composed series of slices arranged into a film. With a running time of only 90 minutes the film moves quickly and is filled with rapid montages, jump cuts and fragmentary bits of dialogue. The movie is compressed but never feels overly rushed and it’s a feat of writing, acting, and (most critically) editing, that Like Crazy can be so relaxed in its swift gliding.
From its title this movie may seem to be an exploration into the crazy and uncontrollable emotions of two young people in love. The truth, however, is a much gentler story that chronicles the tender, random and subtle moments of connection that coalesce into the whole experience of two people falling in love. Anna (Felicity Jones), an aspiring writer from England and Jacob (Anton Yelchin), a young furniture designer are two college students in Los Angeles.
The film opens with Anna presenting a writing assignment in class and observing with equal measure the boredom of her classmates and the furtive smiles of Jacob who seems both disinterested in the presentation and captivated by its speaker. From there we see Anna self-consciously placing a letter on Jacob’s car window. The sequence is sequential, but not necessarily linear, and we are uncertain how many days have passed between their initial smiles of flirtation and this simple, earnest act of reaching out to someone in hopes of making a connection.
The one overtly crazy act of this romance is when Anna decides to stay in California with Jacob after graduation. This simple act of love has consequences when she later tries to return to the United States after a trip back home and is refused entry for having overstayed her student visa. This is clearly a narrative contrivance intended to create conflict through (physical) separation. Tears, pleas, and exasperation unfold as Anna and Jacob try to fight both immigration policies and the strains of keeping their love alive across continents.
Everything in Like Crazy seems to be in some indeterminate middle. Time, place and context are all mixed about and the audience is often left unsure if we are at the beginning of a conversation, the end of a scene or at the pivotal center of something important. This sort of indie art-house flourish works until it doesn’t.
There is a beauty in the wandering in and out of Anna and Jacob’s romance, but sometimes it feels that such abrupt stylistic choices were made to create interest where otherwise none would exist. That these two young people are in love is conveyed with assurance what is less certain, however, is what holds them together. Since the movie moves in moments the characters, as a result, remain wisps of suggestion rather than fully realized persons.
To its credit Like Crazy — recently released on DVD — is not a traditional Hollywood romantic movie. It does not follow the conventions of building (by narrative contrivances) to the first magical kiss, the declarations of eternal love or even the poetic transcendence brought from eventual consummation. Rather, the film moves in disjointed, elliptical moments and lets its camera linger in the pure joy of observing two people fall in love.
Shot on hand-held digital cameras and working from a 50-page outline, rather than a script, the film moves with a relaxed and organic fluidity. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Felicity Jones (The Diary of Anne Frank) are both appealing and talented young actors who pair well with each other here. Jones actually walked away with a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, which is not surprising as she possesses that winsome English intelligence, beauty and poise that the silver screen indulges with great love. Like Crazy suffers, however, from an overall lack of structure and the actors are not quite capable of filling in all the holes left by the broad strokes and sketches of the story.
Like Crazy may not burn with the bittersweet passion of its reach. It is, however, a well-observed snapshot of romantic love and shines with a low-key beauty.