If you make a feature-length movie in one month and decide not to give your actors a script, you can expect to see some flaws in the final product. The good news for Like Crazy, winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the latest film from 28-year-old writer/director Drake Doremus, is that the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives. What begins as a stereotypical story about first loves evolves into an exquisite tale exploring a complex and realistic post-9/11 long-distance international relationship.
Felicity Jones is outstanding as Anna, a Brit in Los Angeles on a student visa. Anna quickly succeeds in drawing the interest of the quiet but charming Jacob (Anton Yelchin), an American with a bright future in furniture design. The two fall deeply in love with each other, so much so that Anna decides to ignore her expired visa and stay with Jacob for two extra months, a mistake that sets the stage for the rest of the movie. After a brief visit home to England, Anna returns to Los Angeles, where immigration officials use her previous visa violation to deny her access to the country. Anna is sent home on the next available plane, devastated and unable to see the man she loves. Jacob’s left stranded at the airport, stunned with the unexpected turn of events. What follows is a series of back and forth visits between Anna and Jacob that test the strength of their commitment to each other over several years.
Ironically, the lack of a script is what makes Like Crazy so good, allowing the actors to turn in largely improvisational performances that keep a heartfelt story real and intense from beginning to end. The acting is so natural and the relationship between Anna and Jacob rings so true that it’s as if the characters are friends of yours. In some ways, Like Crazy doesn’t even seem like a movie. Rather, it’s a relevant love story you need to feel to appreciate. Doremus’s willingness to let Jones and Yelchin improvise pays off, resulting in a film that explores the murkier areas of love. Anna and Jacob’s frustrating and confusing relationship spirals into surprising areas that ultimately leaves you with one question: What’s going to happen to these two people?
Like Crazy does have its shortcomings. Doremus’s attempt to cover a six-plus year relationship in just 90 minutes often comes up short, resulting in some awkward and sometimes hard-to-follow passage-of-time transitions, especially during the film’s second half. Although Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin both shine in their roles, there are moments when Yelchin’s quiet demeanor is too understated for certain situations that his character faces. In addition, Jacob’s decision to become involved in an on-and-off relationship with his American work partner Sam (Jennifer Lawrence) seems inconsistent for a guy who is so smitten with Anna.
Regardless of the minor imperfections, Doremus’s splendid filmmaking makes Like Crazyone of the most honest love stories seen on film during the 2000s. An early montage showing Anna and Jacob literally spending the summer in bed is a joy to watch, as is a later series of silent point of view shots on a London subway as the couple travels to the airport. Handheld cameras and numerous shots of Anna and Jacob from behind windows and through doors add to the sense that you’re right there with them, feeling everything they’re feeling as they experience the challenges of international love in the modern world.
Director Drake Doremus took some major creative risks with Like Crazy. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker and cast, the movie would have likely been a train wreck of epic proportions. Instead, if the Academy offered an Oscar for the category of Best Drama Filmed in a Hurry Without a Script, Like Crazy would coast to an easy win this year.
RATING: FOUR OUT OF FIVE
Release Date: November 11th, 2011 at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan and across the country on November 24th
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Alex Kingston, and Oliver Muirhead
Director: Drake Doremus
Writers: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones