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Josh Reviews Like Crazy

November 28th, 2011
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If Like Crazy is playing anywhere near you, I really encourage you to seek out this wrenching little film.

The movie stars Anton Yelchin (who played Chekov in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot) and Felicity Jones (getting a tremendous amount of acclaim, and deservedly so, for this breakout role) as a young couple who meet at university in L.A. and quickly fall crazily in love.  Jacob (Yelchin) is an aspiring furniture designer, and Anna (Jones) is a writer.  The two immediately spark to one another, and Anna chooses to stay the summer in L.A. rather than returning home to London.  But overstaying her VISA gets her into trouble when she does eventually return home to London, and she finds herself barred from re-entering the United States.  The bulk of Like Crazy follows Jacob and Anna struggling to maintain a connection during the months and eventually years that follow, when, despite their efforts, they are unable to get Anna’s travel ban lifted.

I could imagine that plot summary being written about a big-budget Hollywood romantic film, with two super-stars in the lead roles, in which the separation of the two characters leads to silly hi-jinks (Maybe they experiment with phone sex!) and eventually to big heart-felt moments (A dramatic speech!  A kiss in the rain!) scored to pop songs or to rousing orchestral music.  Thankfully, none of that is found anywhere near Like Crazy.

The film is presented in a stripped-down fashion, with the focus tight on the two lead characters.  The camerawork keeps us often intimately close to these two people, and the story is unflinching in its sometimes brutal exploration of the painful emotional truths of love and relationships.

Like Crazy was made on a shoe-string budget.  In an interview, the 28 year-old director, Drake Doremus, said that the entire film cost only $250,000, and was filmed entirely on a $1,500 camera.  The shoot lasted only a few weeks, and the scenes were mostly improvised by the two actors.  Working from a detailed 50-page outline, created by Mr. Doremus, the actors developed the scenes, and the details of their relationship, through the process of filming the movie.

It’s clear to me that the film benefitted extraordinarily from the aesthetic choices necessitated by such an on-the-cheap, on-the-fly process of filmmaking.  I really connected to the movie’s unadorned technique, and the fly-on-the-wall, almost voyeuristic position into which we, as the viewers, are placed, as we watch this couple struggle through their long-distance relationship.  The film asks tough questions of the characters, and their responses to the situations in which they were placed felt very real to me, very emotionally true.  Both Jacob and Anna are presented as likable people, and one certainly roots for them to be able to reunite and survive as a couple.  But we also get to see the flaws of them both — not to the degree that they become distasteful, but enough so that they both feel like real, live young people.

Like Crazy has a somewhat unusual, languid pace, and I could see some viewers being bothered by the film’s refusal to fit into a simple narrative three-act structure.  But that’s one of the things I loved best about the film.  Some of the big emotional beats you might expect to see in a story like this are passed over, in favor of the moment just before, or the moment just after.  And the ending is wonderfully ambiguous.  As a viewer I almost desperately wanted the film to give me a more definitive statement about how I should interpret the final moments.  Is this good?  Is this bad?  Did these characters make the right choices?  But the film totally denied me that.  Each viewer has to make his or her choice about the ending.  Not so much in terms of “what did that mean?”, but rather in terms of “does that choice make this a happy ending or a tragic one?”.

Both Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones really are given a chance to strut their stuff in the film, and I certainly see long, successful careers ahead of them both.  Each one of them is incredibly compelling, and able to hold the screen — and the viewer’s attention — with just a look.  And, most critically, their chemistry is palpable.  (I’m reminded somewhat — and this is a compliment — of the powerful connection between the two leads of the wonderful romantic movie Onceclick here for my review.)  Jennifer Lawrence (so amazing in a similarly stripped-down actors’ showcase in last year’s phenomenal film Winter’s Boneclick here for my review) has a small but pivotal role, and she’s also able to deliver so much emotion by just her facial expressions, without speaking a word.  I was also quite taken by Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead, who play Anna’s parents.  I’d love to see a whole film about that fun, Scotch-drinking couple!

Ultimately, I must praise director Drake Doremus for pulling everything together. Like Crazy is sweet and terribly sad.  It’s alive and vibrant and haunting.  I thought it was pretty much superb, and the fact that it was made for such a tiny fraction of what even relatively modest Hollywood films cost these days only makes me even more admiring of what Mr. Doremus and his troupe have wrought.

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