"Like Crazy" captures the transcendent emotions and one-of-a-kind rush of being in love, but sidesteps the depth to match it. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the picture arrives in theaters ten months later as an occasionally wise but just as frequently uneven romantic drama, a victim of its own early acclaim. Highly episodic as the 89-minute narrative spans a timeframe of several years, the discerning storytelling becomes repetitive as it goes around in circles just like its characters, the two protagonists finding it increasingly difficult to stay together the more that life separates them. In the moment, writer-director Drake Doremus, co-writer Ben York Jones, and their actorsespecially Anton Yelchin (2011's "Fright Night
"), Felicity Jones (2010's "The Tempest") and Jennifer Lawrence (2011's "X-Men: First Class
")achieve a truth so big that the viewer's heart begins to ache. The spaces between these perfect scenes, however, expose a meandering creative downfall, a sense that the characters are going through the motions and haven't been given enough to say, enlightening or otherwise, to suitably bide their time and ours.
They meet at college in Los Angeles when talented writer Anna (Felicity Jones) musters the courage to leave Jacob (Anton Yelchin) a note on his car windshield professing her interest in him. One coffee date later, the two have hit it off with the spontaneous effortlessness of born soul mates. Unfortunately, their timing couldn't be worse. Anna, hailing from England, is due to spend the summer with her parents. In a rash decision not taking into account the consequences, she opts to stay in the U.S. with Jacob a few months longer, thus placing her in direct violation of her overseas Visa. Later, stranded in the UK with no way of getting back to Jacob, the two are forced to remain apart. Life must go on in the interimAnna gets a job at a local magazine, while Jacob begins his finishing design business in Californiaas they try to make the best of a tough, unfair situation. A temporary long-distance relationship is one thing, though. With Anna's attempts at overturning her bad Visa dragging on for several years, is the love that she and Jacob share worthy, or even capable, of withstanding such a huge sacrifice?
"Like Crazy" has a lovely first act as Jacob and Anna connect for the first times and the seeds of their romance quickly and believably bloom. Once reality sets in, tearing them physically apart as Anna, to no avail, struggles to get her Visa sorted out, time speeds up, months turning to years while Jacob and Anna kick off their careers. Jacob visits her, to be sure, but his upstart business is in L.A. and he doesn't want to move if he doesn't have to. Anna, on the other hand, would happily move to the U.S.she could write anywherebut as they struggle as victims of cruel circumstances and an agreement is made for them to start seeing other people until they reunite, it gets to the point where they must ask themselves if things between them are simply not meant to be. A generous chunk of the film is told through montage with precious little dialogue. A picture can sometimes be worth a thousand wordsand it is here in a few particularly potent dramatic momentsbut eventually things grow frustrating as hardly more than surface happenings are explored within both their lives. At times it plays like a good, if hasty, Cliffs Notes of a likely great complete work.
In addition to the Sundance Film Festival's top prize, the film earned an acting award for Felicity Jones' breathtaking star-making performance as Anna. This particular accolade, at last, is one worth getting behind. She is completely disarming, relatable, adorable, and she has the substance and layers as a performer to back them up. It would be interesting to see if Jones could play a villainous character, if only because she is naturally so lovely here. She, with the help of Doremus and Jones, ensures that Anna is never a construct, but a real-seeming young woman stuck in a terrible position by needing her life to move forward but wishing she didn't have to do it without Jacob by her side. When Anna reads some of her writings, it is not flowery fodder but genuinely outstanding, only adding to her believable talent and career path.
As Jacob, Anton Yelchin exudes a longing for Anna when they are apart that comes through well, and later a gradual emotional distance when he begins dating vivacious co-worker Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence). Both of them, however, are held back by the stringent nature of its storytelling, each scene so firmly related to the plot at hand that they simply don't get to breathe as people with full lives. As Sam, Jennifer Lawrence has only about ten minutes of screen time and fewer lines than you'd think, but she expresses such an unforced, aching rainbow of emotions in front of the camera that it doesn't matter. A late scene she shares with Jacob, whom she knows is breaking up with her because of his commitment to Anna, is heartbreakingly delivered on Lawrence's part.
Earning its name from a phrase Jacob writes on the finished wood of the chair he makes for Anna, "Like Crazy" is easily digestible even when it's so uncompromising, a beautiful love story wrapped in a hasty, too-rigid structure. Yes, the two possible soul mates are both only-children, share a love for similar music, and enjoy lazing around in bed, but what really holds them together and makes their love special is never divulged. Maybe that's the point, that the connections between people that mean the most are often unexplainable, a cosmic meeting of minds and chemistry that just clicks. Anna and Jacob definitely have this, and it's the biggest reason why "Like Crazy" works as well as it does when other elements are noticeably lacking. Films are often criticized for being too long, but here's one that suffers from being too brief and plot-centric. Who knows what an extra half-hour might have bought the filmmakers.