Despite constantly flirting with the concept of love, the romance genre rarely questions the very nature of the word, nor does it often present both the beautiful and brutal sides. Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is one of the few features to deliver a satisfying look at what makes relationships work and fall apart, with incredible central performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Continuing this trend of authenticity, writer-director Drake Doremus delivers a different take on the long-distance romance feature with the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Like Crazy.
British student Anna (Felicity Jones) is studying in Los Angeles when she falls for her American classmate Jacob (Anton Yelchin). Hitting it off immediately, and unable to tear themselves away from each other, Anna overstays her student visa to be with him. The consequences soon become apparent after she visits her family in London, as she is refused re-entry to the United States. As the protagonists negotiate through numerous bureaucracies to solve their legal problem, they also attempt to sustain their affection through a long-distance relationship.
Offering the viewer a mature portrait of the messy nature of love – after all, it is more than simply falling for someone – Like Crazy revels in its realism, aided by its handheld cinematography and large amount of improvised dialogue. The film documents the central pair’s transition from initial passion to painful longing to frustrated and heated arguments, with events constantly testing their feelings. They are not always likeable or honourable – but that is the point. The characters and situations feel authentic, and the film succeeds in dramatising the difficulties of maintaining a long-distance relationship when circumstances require them to build separate lives, filled with work commitments and new relationships.
The film also focuses on the consequences of the protagonists’ impulsive and reckless decisions, starting with Anna’s initial disregard for immigration laws and continuing onto their handling of certain events, including potential suitors Sam (Jennifer Lawrence) and Simon (Charlie Bewley). Once separated, the viewer watches how the actions of one can affect the other, and how cruel timing and luck can be.
This incredibly performed independent feature relies heavily on an emotional connection between the audience and its characters, which is quickly threatened by baffling decisions by the central pair. While it is understandable that love causes people to do stupid things, it is difficult to believe Anna’s decision to overstay her visa, as well as Jacob’s unwillingness to move to the UK – the film provides little evidence that his business could not work in another country. They might feel authentic but that doesn’t make the avoidable decisions any less irritating.
Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones’ decision to focus solely on this central relationship also means that a number of interesting – and important – moments in the lives of both individuals are glossed over. Anna’s ascension in her professional life, rising from assistant to junior editor at a magazine, is not nearly as influential as it should be, eventually becoming a non-factor in the film’s narrative. Jacob’s other potential relationship is also underused and quickly dismissed.
Nevertheless, Jones and Yelchin are excellent, with their chemistry believable and performances incredibly nuanced. They excel in the smaller moments, injecting a disarming sincerity into their characters. The improvised dialogue helps create the relationship’s authenticity but their presence on screen keeps it compelling. Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead provide much-needed humour and life as Anna’s parents, while Lawrence is extremely effective, despite her limited amount of screen time.
At times moving and gut-wrenching, Like Crazy is carried by the impressive acting talents of Jones and Yelchin. Capturing the difficult and tragic nature of sustaining a long-distance relationship over a large period of time, the film excels when depicting the pair’s often-helpless efforts and tiny defeats. Unfortunately, contrived decisions from both characters and the immediate dismissal of potentially important moments stain the all-important emotional engagement, leaving the viewer slightly frustrated rather than utterly shattered.