I admit it. I’m an old romantic at heart, although my rationalist head means that unalloyed sentimentalism leaves me gagging. So “doomed love”, “bittersweet”, “complicated” and “unresolved” are always the kind of stories that are going to yank my strings. This movie has been compared to Before Sunrise, one of my favourite films, so this looked promising. The biggest difference between the two films is that Before Sunrise plays out over one evening, whereas Like Crazy is over a few years, but there are certainly similarities in style and tone.
The premise: Anna (Felicity Jones) is a Brit humanities (not sure in quite what exactly) student studying in LA, where she falls in love with Jacob (Anton Yelchin), a would-be designer, in her last year of college. Completing her studies, she is due to fly back to Britain but cannot bear to be parted from Jacob and stays for the summer before briefly going home and then returning seven days later only to find that, because of her visa violation, that she is barred from entry to the US indefinitely and is sent home without even the chance to see Jacob once. The rest of the film is about the ups and downs of their long-distance relationship and whether this kind of romantic love can be lasting as they try to overturn the ban.
The couple are young, privileged, pretty people but I can forgive them this since they are generally so well-drawn and so damn likeable, or at least I find them so, and since we know they’re going to be put through the mill. There are some excruciatingly embarrassing scenes, for all the right reasons, as the awkwardness of first love and, later, the mindlessness of jealous arguments are played out all too convincingly and there is an easy naturalism to most of the scenes. Nice use of time-lapse, rapid flick-throughs of stills and fades between tableaux vivant scenes of wordless, sad communication move the plot on rapidly without losing the mood.
Jennifer Lawrence, as Jacob’s sometime-lover, Sam, is likeable in the all-too-commonly thankless ‘other woman’ role, though Charlie Bewley as Simon, Anna’s other other half, is a little more crudely drawn. It’s interesting how often in film the ‘wrong woman’ is simply wrong, not by any particular character flaw, but simply by not being the heroine whereas the ‘wrong man’ has to be crass, stupid or otherwise socially inept; If this is sexism, I wonder which gender it’s favouring. Bewley’s Simon is certainly not the worst example of this and we can still feel for his situation, if not wholeheartedly.
It’s an intelligent movie and both the intensity and complexity of the characters’ situations are well communicated. It wasn’t (for me) a tear-jerker but instead left me feeling reflective and moved, and it seems likely to stay with me. Like Crazy is my clear ‘favourite movie of the year’ so far, even if January has only just finished.