Friday, December 2, 2011

Like Crazy: A Review (Review #298)


Love stories can take all shapes in film, ranging from the sacrificial (Casablanca) to the doomed (Romeo & Juliet) to the passionate (The Way We Were).  Like Crazy made a great effort to be on the level of all those, maybe even speak for this generation (Generation X or perhaps The Millennials).  I say it was a good try, but not quite there.

You have British student Anna (Felicity Jones).  She finds Teaching Assistant Jacob (Anton Yelchin) cute.  Ana leaves him a note, and from that, a passionate love affair begins.  When I say "passionate", I mean passionate.  These two are besotted with each other in one of those "I can't breathe without you"-types of romances.  As it stands, Anna has to leave soon so as to not violate her student visa and go to a wedding.  Both her parents Bernard (Oliver Muirhead) and Jackie (Alex Kingston) warn Anna about overstaying her visa.  Needless to say however, given how she cannot function without Jacob, she decides to violate her visa and overstay her time in the States.  Needless to say, Jacob goes along with nary a touch of protest.

Needless to say, when she tries to come on back, wouldn't you know it: Customs won't let her through.  Of course, this leaves Jacob (who designs furniture--this is important) and Anna devastated, and when I say "devastated" get the drift.  So, while Anna has to suffer alone in London, Jacob tries to move on with a new girlfriend, Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence).  Still, Anna pines for Jacob, and Jacob pines for Anna, and he goes to London, where they reconnect, re-have sex, and Jacob gets to know the family.  In the ensuing time between when we first meet Anna and Jacob and when we leave them at the end of Like Crazy, they fight, they make up, they fight, they marry, they take lovers, and finally are reunited (legally) into an uncertain future.

I can't help thinking a few things after watching Like Crazy.  For example, director/co-writer Drake Doremus (with co-writing credit given to Ben York Jones) is a student of both the Jean-Luc Godard and Mike Leigh school of cinema.  In the case of the former, the editing doesn't flow smoothly (even within the same scene) but jumps from Point A Point B.  Nothing wrong with that: Breathless was brilliant in how it did the same thing.   In the case of the latter, the script is basically improvised (though Doremus presented the general scenario) just like Leigh adores giving the plot but have the actors make the dialogue.  Again, nothing wrong with that either. 

I digress to say that Doremus may be a follower of Quentin Tarantino in at least one regard: a rather curious foot fetish (at least cinematically).  The love and attention the feet of both Jones and Yelchin get in Like Crazy is at the very least, curious: I noted quite early in Like Crazy that there was a rather interesting obsession with feet that was becoming a bit distracting, then it died down only to come up again near the end.  Curious, that.

I also couldn't help thinking that Doremus and Jones' outline was a bit heavy-handed on the symbolism.  In the early, heady days of the affair, Jacob gives Anna a bracelet with the word "Patience" upon it.  Near the end, we see said bracelet break (curiously, while Anna is in the throes of sexual passion with her friend/next-door neighbor Simon, played by Charlie Bewley).  In the beginning of Like Crazy, Jacob had made Anna a most beautiful chair on which to sit on whilst she writes her great thoughts (told you that furniture maker bit was important).  Far away from her True Love, Anna receives a surprise from Simon: an upholstered chair.  When she asks where her old chair is, he replies it's in the closet.  Lest I forget, Jacob's chair (pity he didn't give her a ladder) has an inscription: the words "like crazy" underneath. 

Are they trying to tell us something about Jacob and Anna with the chair and bracelet?

Truth is, I was not as swept up by Like Crazy and the romance between Anna and Jacob as they were.  I think this came from Anna's dunderheaded decision to violate her visa because she could not be away from Jacob for TWO MONTHS!  That's what: eight weeks, then she could be back in his arms again.  Obviously, these two are not from the 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' school of romance.  Even worse, Jacob registers the thinnest of protests.  It's as if these two had their brains malfunction simultaneously.

Side note: whenever we hear Jackie tell her daughter not to violate her visa, we should be getting the news that she's going to violate her visa.

In short, these two kids are so besotted with each other that I couldn't garner a great deal of sympathy for them.  TWO MONTHS!  Get over yourselves, for Heaven's sake.  Whenever I see a movie where people make foolish decisions then complain about the results, I can't really rally behind them.  Sometimes I could if the story or the performances push the emotions, but in Like Crazy, Anna and Jacob always appeared to be 'in love with love' rather than with each other. 

This isn't to say the performances are bad.  Far from it: both Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones deliver performances that do convey how enthralled two people can be with each other (even if they don't appear to truly understand the sacrificial aspects of love).  Near the end of Like Crazy, as their relationship strains and tears due to their suspicions of infidelities, they argue like a real-life couple coming to the end of their relationship (the improvisational aspect of the script probably helped).  However, it's in things like this that the actors and director are to be commended:  the performances are directed excellently, with both leads expressing the pain and fears of a long-term relationship.

Jones gives a great performance as this girl who loves not wisely nor too well.  Even though we know the wedding is a bit of a sad affair, the hope and joy she radiates at finally having her man legally beside her (if not always physically) is a beautiful thing to see. 

I also commend Lawrence as Jacob's on-off American girlfriend Samantha.  Given how well she and Yelchin worked in The Beaver I keep wondering if they could make a good on-screen team.  When Samantha loses Jacob (for the first time) we feel a great sympathy for her because she went into the relationship, well, not blind to his relationship with Anna but at least with the idea that he had chosen her.  How Samantha is put through the ringer because of Jacob's wavering between his passion for Anna and his need for her is torturous. 

I also think Kingston did her best work as the worried but caring mother.  Allow me a major digression, but I must speak my mind.

While I admire Kingston as an actress, I am one of the few people who think her character of River Song on Doctor Who is one of the most overrated in the series' history.  I don't think she's this Doctor Who Icon that I must be enraptured with.  In fact, I think she's one of the WORST things to happen to Doctor Who and the idea that I must bow down and worship Doctor River Song, or as I lovingly call her, The Legendary Legend of Legendness, is damned idiotic.  Granted, I have yet to see Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2, but having seen Series/Season Five and Six I still think Doctor Who will survive killing off this character who does nothing else but say, "Hello, Sweetie" and show how much smarter than the Doctor she is.  I never fell in love with River Song, and make no apologies about it.  Sorry, but I had to get that out of my system.

Kingston didn't have to say much, but managed to convey a great deal just in her reactions.  When Simon proposes to an already-married Anna, her reaction says so much about not just what she is thinking but about the conflict within her and what she knows her daughter is going through. 

In short, I didn't fall in love with Like Crazy as I was led to believe I would be.  That isn't to say I thought it a terrible film (though the ambiguous ending didn't help).  The performances push it forward, the story was interesting (if a bit overwrought in my view), and there is something to be said about people who are so crazy in love with each other (though again, I question whether they were in love with the individual or in love with the notions of love the other inspired).  I didn't love Like Crazy, but I might reconsider if they ever sang George Strait's The Chair in a sequel. 


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