On screen, and maybe off too, nothing feels more false than a failed attempt at getting real. Like Crazy means to dissect the conflicted heart of l'amour fou. To that true-life end, it uses short scenes shot with a hand-held camera, little shards that are meant to look realistically jagged. It also has the actors improvising within those scenes, speaking dialogue that's supposed to be conversationally credible.
Well, far from jagged, the shards all seem suspiciously smooth, and the dialogue, rather than natural, just sounds spontaneously contrived. Keen to be both really romantic and romantically real, the movie is neither, and falls between the cracks of its twin-ambitions. The result? Call it l'amour phooey.
Even the start has a bogus ring. Meeting on a California campus, Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) are two of the squeakiest clean students since Andy Hardy went to college. A Brit studying journalism, she boasts a lisping English accent and enough smarts to pen an essay arguing that the "end of monetized mass communication" is nigh (a prophecy, some might argue, that this film is bound to accelerate).
Apparently more given to the old-fashioned verités, he's majoring in "furniture design." A burst of short scenes later, they're bonding over Paul Simon, holding hands on the beach, moving in together, and freely exchanging the L-word. Each seems genuine, although his devotion is beyond question – he builds her a chair.
As contrived as the dialogue is the narrative entanglement, which comes courtesy of the immigration authorities. Violating her student visa, Anna is sent packing back to London, leaving our putative lovers separated by an ocean, a continent, multiple time zones and, oh, one other modest impediment to romance – their suddenly burgeoning careers. He's making good in the chair-making biz, while she's blogging for a magazine and even getting "monetized" for her efforts. We know this because, here, director Drake Doremus is inter-cutting transatlantically – those smooth scenes are still short, but the geographic distance has grown exponentially.
Of course, since the gal has travel strictures, it's the guy who must fly to her side. Which he does – there's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing at airports throughout. Back together again, they respark their passion, sip Scotch with her parents, and "take each day as it comes." Alas, the day comes when work beckons Jacob back home. Oops, so does a workmate – a sensitive blonde (Jennifer Lawrence) cut from the same squeaky-clean mould. For Anna too, temptation lurks in the shape of a hunky neighbour. To make matters worse, that unholy visa problem won't go away, although holy matrimony is a possible solution. Or is it?
And so it goes, in the same polite bits and truncated pieces (only once are voices raised), ambling towards the sort of "open-ended" conclusion that, being the hallmark of realistic films, is completely predictable and thus, in this context, weirdly unrealistic. As for the lead performers, Yelchin is tepid, which leaves Jones to carry the emotional load on her petite shoulders. Under the circumstances, she totes it remarkably well, so well that her work alone commends the film – this is a rare instance of an actor rising above her material. If only Lawrence had a similar chance. Beguiling in such contrasting pictures as Winter's Bone and X-Men: First Class, she's wasted in this cameo.
Did I mention that Like Crazy won the top prize at last January's Sundance Film Festival? I'll leave you to interpret that distinction, or, more brutally, to choose between (a) the little it says about the merits of this movie, and (b) the volumes it speaks about the current plight of the Sundance Film Festival. Once upon a time, that fest championed independence over the mainstream; now, it can't tell the difference.
- Directed by Drake Doremus
- Written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
- Starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin
- Classification: 14A