From the very start to its very end, Like Crazy confronts us with a sparse technique of long takes, naturalistic cinematography, minimal music and heavy improvisation. And yet as writer-director Drake Doremus gives the actors free reign over dialogue, using basic scene outlines to shoot the film, he creates something charming and exquisite. An honest, special bond between two characters who become inseparable – but characters in their salad days, the new generation who’ve been generally ignored or simplified in film.
There is Anna (Felicity Jones), the girl, and there is Jacob (Anton Yelchin), the boy. An unspoken classroom crush turns into a date after she writes Jacob a 4 page love letter. The pull behind the rest of the film lies in these first 20 minutes as we see the blossoming love between the two. But never at one point do is it feel like a formulated love story by which there must be a clear ‘falling in love’ moment because the characters only have a life span of 90 minutes and audiences have small bladders. What is often considered the most romantic moments in a relationship are skilfully tip toed around: the first kiss, poetic declaration of love, sex scene – all absent. Rather, Like Crazy constantly crash zooms in on the tiny little moments, whilst from the birth of their relationship a question looms – what becomes of ‘us’ after graduation?
“I wanted to focus on the little intangible things that when you look back are burned into your minds: the little glances, the looks, the truthful moments where you’re just sort of luxuriating in each other.”
The inevitable happens: as she’s a British student studying in L.A. her student visa expires, but not wanting to spend just a few weeks without Jacob back home in England until she can get a new one, she instead decides to spend that time illegally in the US. Eventually she does return home for a brief time, but when she flies back to the States to visit Jacob, she’s turned away by customs forcing two people in love into a tricky long-distance relationship.
It is at this point that Like Crazy evolves into something more; something moving, a level of emotional depth between two people rarely explored. Although trying to maintain their relationship, both move forward in their careers finding romance closer to home. Off screen break ups and reconciliations are revealed through the subtlest of glances; yearning text messages between the two are exchanged at the worst moments eventually forcing Jacob to split up with the beautiful Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) simply for not being Anna. It becomes increasingly ambiguous as to whether the chemistry between Jacob and Anna is perpetual or whether the time they spent together in college has simply complicated things and introduced a whole world of heartbreak and lonesomeness into their lives.
Credit is due to the other fantastic performances in the films: Charlie Bewley as Simon, Anna’s reticent but overbearing hunky boyfriend, Alex Kingston (River Song off of Dr Who) and Oliver Muirhead as Anna’s middle class English parents providing a warm humour, usually when they’re drinking, that makes us feel part of the fam, and of course Jennifer Lawrence who despite having a dozen lines or so leaves a lasting impression as the heart Jacob tramples on in his attempt to move on.
For Doremus, the film is clearly a highly personal one, based on his own long distance relationship, and is complete with the perfectly ambiguous ending it needed. But in its 90 minute running time, it comes to a point where scenes with Jacob seem incomplete and unsatisfying without Anna: we miss them being together as much as they miss each other, but we’re afraid of what comes after they commit. I’d like to think Like Crazy promotes the idea that despite all obstacles standing in the way of two people, that it’s up to them to find their own answer (which is why, rather heartbreakingly, the film ends in one of the most ambiguous shots I’ve seen). I think 500 Days has pretty much entered pop culture as ‘that’ young person’s love story everyone can relate to, and while this is true, Like Crazy does just as much without the structural trickery or concrete dialogue. Perhaps Like Crazy could be conceived as an attack on dishonesty in romanticism – a story which through totally exposing it’s complex characters and their raw emotions, these young filmmakers have created a universally relatable, transparently honest materialization of young love in all its bliss and misery.