Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
Drake Doremus’ Sundance hit Like Crazy reportedly did not have a script when it began filming; the dialogue was developed through improvisation and rehearsal by Doremus, his co-writer Ben York Jones, and his stars, Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, playing young lovers separated by the vagaries of customs and immigration. The problem with improvisation, of course, is the possibility that you may not improvise anything interesting. Like Crazy certainly has the loose, unpolished feel of something made up more or less on the spot, but the result has none of the searing immediacy of something like Blue Valentine. Instead, it feels like… well, like two talented actors working without a script, or much expert guidance. It’s almost weirdly banal, a love story between two characters who don’t really exist.
The story is so simple it also hardly exists: two LA college students meet and fall into giddy young love; in the throes of their passion, Anna (Jones) overstays her visa (she’s from the UK), and soon she and Jacob (Yelchin) are a continent and an ocean apart, with no realistic prospect of reuniting for more than a week or two here and there. The simplicity isn’t the problem: love stories are by definition simple plots, or they become soap operas. The problem is that these are, by all appearances, the most boring people on the planet. She is an aspiring journalist and he a furniture designer — okay. We learn that they share a love of Paul Simon, the world’s most anodyne enthusiasm. But I don’t think they have a single conversation in the entire film about something other than their relationship, and barely even that. It’s not the best analogy, but imagine Before Sunrise if neither character ever expressed a thought or opinion about anything. Jacob keeps drawing chairs in his notebook. Who are these people?
It’s a fundamental problem, because the premise of the film, and its primal pull, rest on the notion that these characters share a connection so strong that they find themselves unable to move on with their lives even when fate and their own mistakes leave them on opposite sides of the world with little hope of a life together. But what’s the connection? There’s no suggestion that it’s purely physical, and we get literally nothing else to go on. I’m not demanding some fatuous concrete explanation for why Anna and Jacob fall in love — these things obviously can’t be reduced to a soundbite — but we need to feel something; some sense or simulacrum of their passion. The end of Before Sunrise is breathtaking and almost unbearably poignant because it is perfectly fucking clear that Jesse and Celine experienced a level of physical and intellectual attraction that might be once-in-a-lifetime; the entire film virtually throbs with it. In Like Crazy, it’s purely theoretical; the movie declares that Anna and Jacob are soulmates by fiat.
The film’s at its best when the actors are permitted to convey an emotion other than googly-eyed adoration or mopey discontent. I liked the very real frustration during a visit to the consulate — it at least has some content, you know? — and their only fight, irrational and pretextual as these things tend to be, draws blood. I liked the ending, which might be a sneaky suggestion that my problems with the film are actually features rather than bugs. Yelchin and Jones have charm and presence and will go on to have long and successful careers, if perhaps not in improv. (Though I must say that I like Yelchin better when he’s permitted to have a little more edge, as in the otherwise mediocre The Beaver, or when he’s allowed to bust out comedically, as in Fright Night or Charlie Bartlett.) Doremus, whose two prior features I haven’t seen, has a gift for montage (even when his film could have used some dialogue instead) and will probably fare better when he tackles something a little less gauzy and autobiographical.
It’s hard to imagine anyone falling in love with Like Crazy — there’s no entry point into it; at best, people will project their own experiences and feelings onto into its characters’ travails. There’s something to be said for that, I guess, but there’s more to be said for love stories that are self-contained and make emotional sense, and that isn’t this movie. Anna and Jacob are conceits, not people. They’re not really there.
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Charlie Bewley, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin|
|Directed by:||Drake Doremus|
|Screenwriters:||Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones|