Friday, July 14, 2017

Like Crazy

I can’t imagine how young people meet each other and fall in love in our modern world fragmented by technology. For all of the promise that things like Facebook and smart phones were supposed to make it easier to connect with others all over the world, they actually do just as good of a job keeping us physically apart. You can check up on a potential love interest by studying their FB page, Twitter feed and Instagram page all before meeting them in person and all of which can be nothing more than a carefully created persona that doesn’t represent the actual person. When people get tired of being in a relationship they can break things off with a text message or a tweet. How is this affecting the young people of today?

Filmmaker Drake Doremus addresses many of these notions with his bittersweet long-distance romance Like Crazy (2011), an independent film he shot on a still digital camera for $250,000. The end result is an emotionally affecting on again/off again romance between two people that can’t seem to let each other go despite all of the obstacles in their path depicted in authentically intimate fashion so that you really feel like you’ve gotten to know these people over the course of the film.

British exchange student Anna Gardner (Felicity Jones) and American student Jacob Helm (Anton Yelchin) meet at a college class they have together in Los Angeles. One day, after class, she leaves a handwritten note on his car. Impressed that she took the time and effort to write him a letter, he calls her and they meet for coffee. Their initial meeting is fused with the awkwardness of a first date, hoping you’ll say the right things and don’t act like an idiot. They broach the usual topics, like what they’re majoring in – journalism for her, furniture design for him – and their plans after school. There are self-conscious, pregnant pauses punctured by humor that is typical of a first date, but the way they look at each other you can tell there’s definitely a spark of attraction.

Anna and Jacob go back to her place where they stay up all night talking, bonding over their mutual love for Paul Simon’s music and he gets her to read some of her writing. At the end of the night, she sees him off and the silent yet intense looks they give each other tell us that these people are falling in love. Sure enough, we get one of those standard happy couples montages as we see them hanging out and getting close but done in a tastefully understated way. I like that they give each other very personal gifts – he makes his first ever chair for her and she gives him a book that chronicles their relationship through a combination of words and pictures.

Jacob meets Anna’s parents – Bernard (Oliver Muirhead) and Jackie (Alex Kingston) in an amusing scene over dinner where her mother is delightfully frank while her father is more diplomatic. Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston do an excellent job of quickly conveying two people that have been married for years by the way they play off each other and know how to embarrass their daughter. Naturally, the initial glow of Anna and Jacob’s budding romance becomes overshadowed by the looming expiration date of her student visa. It’s the cold splash of reality on their whirlwind romance.

Anna and Jacob throw caution to the wind and let their emotions govern their actions when she decides to stay the summer after her visa expires. When she goes back home for a family function and then tries to return to the United States she is detained by immigration and not allowed in. The rest of Like Crazy plays out how this decision affects their relationship, which they try to maintain over long distance.

Anton Yelchin brings a wonderful low-key quality to Jacob complete with a dry sense of humor that he uses to defuse a tense situation between him and Anna in a scene where, upset that she has to leave soon, buries herself in a book until he finally cracks her up by saying he once rescued a cat from a tree. Jacob is definitely the quieter of the two but that doesn’t mean he feels things as intensely as Anna does and Yelchin conveys that in his body language and facial expressions.

Prior to Like Crazy, the only thing I had seen Felicity Jones in was Rogue One (2016) where she plays a tough resistance fighter. In this film, she plays a much more complex character with a wide range of emotions. There’s a superb moment where, back home, Anna goes out with some friends and is chatting with a guy about the usual small talk and then during a brief lull in the conversation she goes silent and adopts a far away look as she is obviously thinking about Jacob that Jones conveys so well. Anna is often ruled by her emotions and one gets the feeling that she is never able to let go of her feelings for Jacob, that her love for him has impacted her profoundly. With Anna, Jones has created a fully realized character that has virtues and flaws just like anybody else.

It goes without saying that with a film like this the chemistry between the two leads has to feel genuine or it won’t work. Fortunately, Yelchin and Jones have fantastic chemistry together and make for a believable couple. They do an exceptional job of depicting the emotional arc of their relationship, from the first blush of romance to the uncertainty of their future together. It is a testimony to Yelchin and Jones’ skills as actors that they get us to care about Jacob and Anna and we become invested in their relationship, rooting for them to make it work – even when they get involved with perfectly nice people in an attempt to move on with their respective lives. I like that Doremus doesn’t try to villainize the significant others of Anna and Jacob. Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) and Simon (Charlie Bewley) are perfectly nice people in their own right but no matter how much they try to make it work they aren’t right for Anna and Jacob.

Drake Doremus realistically depicts the highs and lows of long distance relationships like someone who has experienced it himself. For example, she conveys how painful it is to spend chunks of time together only to have to go back home when all you want to do is spend every minute with the other person. He nails the heart-wrenching experience of seeing off a loved one at the airport and the euphoria of seeing them arrive. He also nails the frustration of dealing with government bureaucratic red tape that is sometimes necessary to be with someone from another country. It is a powerless feeling as you are at the mercy of some faceless government official that doesn’t care about your situation. Doremus also isn’t afraid to show the stupid decisions people make along the way and how that impacts a relationship.

There are some people in life that just get you. There’s no explaining it and you have to hold on to those people because they are rare in this world. I believe that’s why Anna and Jacob keep getting back together. They connected on a deeply profound level that no amount of geographic distance or achievements in their professional lives could touch. Doremus gets it and depicts it with unflinching honesty. He has made a deeply personal film that is also relatable as he is dealing with basic emotions and feelings that most of us have experienced in our lives.

Like Crazy is all about the messiness of life, right down to the intentionally ambiguous ending that serves as a litmus test for the viewer, leaving it up to them to continue the story in their imagination if they like. Ultimately, people that really love each other find a way to make it work. It takes effort and commitment but it is possible and this film shows two people figuring it out as they go along, making mistakes and hopefully learning from them, but not losing sight of what they mean to each other.

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