American cinema tends to deal with romance in two different ways. The first is the glossy approach, the kind of romantic comedies where only a second act dilemma keeps a couple apart, before their joyful reunion come the happy ending. The other option tends to be the approach that puts its leading couple through hell, dragging them to entirely different places, usually with unpleasant consequences.
At first, you can’t help but suspect that Like Crazy is taking the former approach. Starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as Jacob and Anna, the film traces the early stages of their relationship, as they meet, and gradually come together. It’s charmingly done, quite possibly being the only film of its ilk to make you care for a chair. Director and co-writer Drake Doremus handles it wonderfully well, too, and instantly, Jacob and Anna are an alarmingly real couple, who you feel you can root for.
That doesn’t make for much of a film, though, so it’s not long before the central problem comes in. The pair are college students, both studying in America. However, Anna is British, and on a temporary visa. When it comes time to return home, she oversteps the mark, and officialdom starts interfering in their love.
It’s an interesting reversal of the usual story. Ordinarily, a couple come together at the end of a film. Here, Doremus brings his leading characters together at the start, and then forces them apart. He spends much of the rest of the film’s running time examining and dealing with the response and ramification to this, and just what it does to Jacob and Anna. It feels, too, refreshingly real. Both make real mistakes, both go through mixed emotions, and the strength of young love is thoroughly tested.
What makes it worth investing time in is the quality of the key performances. Felicity Jones, whose past credits include the likes of Cemetery Junction and Albatross, is excellent as Anna. She’s perhaps the more conventional character of the two leads, but that doesn’t make the demands on her any easier. Anton Yelchin is equally strong, in arguably the more testing role. He’s not your conventional romantic lead, and his demeanour and willingness to stray away from Hollywood convention really helps life Like Crazy a lot.
In the supporting cast, incidentally, is a welcome role for a whiskey-chugging Alex Kingston. That’s Doctor Who and Star Trek represented in the company of actors, then. X-Men, too, given that Jennifer Lawrence makes an all-too-brief appeance.
Where Like Crazy falters just a little is in its consistency. Its comparably brief running time still feels quite extended by the time the ending comes around, and there are chunks of the film where your attachment to either of the two leads will be tested. That’s no bad thing, but when the cast is so small, audience investment is vital. And it will fluctuate. Certainly, as the film heads into its third act, the complicated relationship between Anna and Jacob becomes just a little less interesting.
But there’s plenty to like here, especially if you like a relationship story that, in style and substance, is just a little off the beaten track. And mark Drake Doremus as a director to watch. For long periods, you can’t help but care about his lead characters here, and there are emotional moments of real merit throughout most of the film.
It might not be on everybody’s radar. But Like Crazy is the kind of small, interesting film that many argue never makes it to their local multiplex.
If this one does, do consider giving it a bit of support.