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TIFF11: "Like Crazy" Raises the Bar on Romance

By Daniel Walber | Spout September 13, 2011 at 3:36AM

What if “One Day” had been a good film? Better yet, where are all of the good romance movies? Romcoms included, every love story with big stars on screen seems to turn into a predictable disaster. Even the more interesting ideas and creative scripts seem forced into rote conclusions and overdone plot elements by the time they make it to theaters. What if for every mismanaged romantic movie there were an edgier, more provocative romance that spun from the same original notion? A “Friends with Benefits” with real danger of heartbreak, for example. For “One Day,” the alternatively intriguing film is the brutal yet endearing “Like Crazy.” If only all long-distance relationships on screen looked like this dynamic Sundance hit.
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What if “One Day” had been a good film? Better yet, where are all of the good romance movies? Romcoms included, every love story with big stars on screen seems to turn into a predictable disaster. Even the more interesting ideas and creative scripts seem forced into rote conclusions and overdone plot elements by the time they make it to theaters. What if for every mismanaged romantic movie there were an edgier, more provocative romance that spun from the same original notion? A “Friends with Benefits” with real danger of heartbreak, for example. For “One Day,” the alternatively intriguing film is the brutal yet endearing “Like Crazy.” If only all long-distance relationships on screen looked like this dynamic Sundance hit.

Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) are in love. Seems simple enough. They start out in college, and writer/director Drake Doremus spares no time in getting them together, somewhere between cute Los Angeles coffee shops and intimate late night poetry readings. Yet upon graduation they make a few unfortunate mistakes that will rock the rest of their relationship. Anna is from the UK and is in California on a student visa. One dumb decision, deciding to stay out the summer and violate the terms of her stay in the US, is enough to send us flying off into the anguished world of on-again-off-again intercontinental love.

This is a movie about two kids who haven’t quite grown up. It’s not just Anna’s decision to linger in LA that makes this clear, but rather the entirety of her bouncy love affair with Jacob. They’re impetuous and passionate, one second willing to go to the ends of the earth for each other and the next running out the door in fury to find someone else. They have pillow fights, exchange bitter text-messages with unmatched vigor, and a particular scene of Jacob lost in the airport while Anna fights with customs lets us in on just how little these two really understand about the world. There is nothing more refreshing than watching young love look awkward, difficult, and immature.

Yelchin and Jones are marvelous at this, and manage to interpret their characters with a veracity that oftentimes is missed in this sort of film. As in “One Day,” the most significant part of these characters is growth, the move from adolescence to adulthood across years of time. Yet while Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess were tasked to act their ridiculous lovers from college into their 40s, “Like Crazy” manages to have the feel of a lengthy affair in a narrative span of just a couple of years. In that comparatively short time Anna and Jacob mature with remarkable clarity, aided by two nuanced and effective performances.

Finally, a note about the little things. Too often little films like this get praised for some acting and some writing without much thought into the rest of the construction along the way. Jennifer Lawrence has surprisingly little to do but is memorable nonetheless, and Alex Kingston gives a particularly effective supporting performance as Anna’s mother. There are some moments of absolutely inspired cinematography, particularly during Anna and Jacob’s first date and its echo in the closing moments of the film, thanks to DP John Guleserian. Lastly, and this may be a very small note but worthy regardless, the chairs are great. One of the film’s persistent motifs are Jacob’s works as a furniture designer, and the development of Anna’s office furnishings throughout are a small but welcome part of this quiet love affair. Every aspect of "Like Crazy" seems consciously chosen to help us follow these young fools, from the minutia of art direction to the supporting players. Writers of romances, take note.

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