Writer-director Drake Doremus graduates from the micro-niche ranks into indie world with Like Crazy, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With works like Moonpie (2006), Spooner (2009) and Douchebag (2010), which screened in dramatic competition at Sundance, in the rearview, it would seem that Doremus would be poised for a breakout — if not of epic proportions, then at least worthy of close scrutiny when it makes its box-office assault and he’s basing it on what he knows: a crazy love story.
Of course, you could argue that Like Crazy is more of small “c” kind of thing. Small as in insular and intimate, so much so that it feels like we’ve been allowed inside the minds of Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin), the would-be crazy lovers. She’s a British college student. He’s American, a teaching assistant in one of her classes. She’s smart and cool. He’s awkward, earnestly nerdy, and therefore attractive. They bond in their fashion through meandering conversation and sheepish glances that stretch, and, when plucked, mimic the urgent beats of their young and eager hearts.
We wonder and doubt whether it can last, this love, because it is impossibly cute, but Jones and Yelchin offer hints, trace elements of the realities arrayed against them. Their faces, their voices and even, to a certain extent, the film itself betrays its own innocence. We aren’t given the standard Pop song montage that documents the weightless fall, although there is a sense of being untethered, drifting in the space between these two.
There is music and an interlude, but it is instrumental and it transforms the fragmented moments into poetry, into memories that we can replay for ourselves, much like we know Anna and Jacob will when they are isolated from one another.
At first, they are so close, hovering between kisses and embraces. Then we see the moment, the crazy mistake that will doom this love and them. It is such a simple thing. Anna, impulsively, decides to remain in the States with Jacob, at a time when she should go, shouldn’t overstay. She could easily go home, reapply to extend her visa and then return, but she and Jacob are in the throes of temporary insanity, this crazy little thing called love. And from that moment, the bottom drops and gravity reasserts itself, pulling to the point where we know something will break, something deep within them.
The winds of change blow them hither and yon. Others intrude; other lovers for each of them. Sam (Jennifer Lawrence), an employee of Jacob’s — his personal assistant — works her way into his bed, while Simon (Charlie Bewley), Anna’s neighbor, gets invited into her home and seduces her with a promise of a practical partnership, an adult relationship rooted in settlement and security. They wander down these paths, but reach dead ends and backtrack.
Like Crazy is uncluttered, very different from, for instance, Going the Distance, the Drew Barrymore-Justin Long rom-com about a couple facing a great physical divide (New York to Los Angeles). There were crazy friends and family (Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan), and the crazy reality of the real-life on-again/off-again relationship between Barrymore and Long. The distance wasn’t so great, not really. It focused more on the space between the jokes.
Jones and Yelchin stay within themselves, within the small moments granted to these characters, and it helps that we don’t have any additional performance baggage attached to them. We can see Anna and Jacob a bit more clearly.
Doremus endured his own global romantic odyssey, falling for and then marrying an Austrian woman, as a result finding himself mired in the ensuing immigration muck. He obviously knows this tale of woo and woe intimately and it is plainly his intention to link Anna and Jacob with some grander notion of the romantic as it comes face-to-face with the everyday. Love isn’t always big and bold and noble, just like crazy isn’t always manic and all consuming. Grade: A (tt stern-enzi)