Love, for all its splendor, has probably inspired more terrible movies than any other emotion or human experience. The reason? It’s pretty tricky to replicate the real thing. Scripted dialogue often falls flat, missing genuine and hitting generic instead. The difference is obvious — people can recognize a cliché when they see one. Maybe that’s why Like Crazy feels so different: Writer-director Drake Doremus gave the actors the opportunity to improvise much of their script, so the love story that unfolds is more than just two people playing characters — it’s an authentic connection.
At first glance, the premise seems a little forced. Like Crazy introduces us to Jacob and Anna, two Los Angeles college students who form an instant romantic bond. The film barrages the audience with trite montages of classic couple activities — long walks on the beach, city explorations, holding hands all the while. But even if the circumstances are not quite convincing, the performances from Anton Yelchin (Fright Night, Charlie Bartlett) and Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl) are overwhelmingly so. Yelchin is in his element as the earnest and easygoing Jacob, while Jones’ portrayal of the animatedly juvenile Anna won her a Sundance Special Jury Prize for acting in a dramatic film. Though it is difficult to understand exactly what draws the two together, the couple is so compelling that the audience falls in love just as quickly as the protagonists do.
Their relationship is close in every sense of the word, and the film stresses its tactility: The pair is always within reach of each other, ensuring that they stay in contact. It captures the inelegance of love in its early stages. There are conversational gaps, but the silences are tinged with potential and promise, the way that all relationships are at their beginnings; anything can happen. However, Jacob and Anna are still very young and naive — they revel in childish habits (note-passing, wrestling, pillow fights), they avoid thinking about the future and, when they fail to make adult decisions, neither knows how to handle the consequences of their self-manufactured drama. When Anna overstays her student visa and is then denied entrance back to the United States from her native England, the two struggle to adapt to a long-distance relationship without the all-important physical element. This minor twist on an otherwise uninspired story does what it can to keep things interesting, but it doesn’t make the film any less predictable: Two young, beautiful people find it hard to stay together when they’re forced apart. However average the plot may be, though, the characters’ sheer tenacity and refusal to abandon one another endears everyone watching to their plight.
Though their commitment is admirable, eventually Anna and Jacob settle into an on-again-off-again pattern that, despite making both of them miserable, they aren’t willing to give up. The couple falls apart and back together again, living separate lives and loving other people but never quite being able to suppress their feelings for each other. Time and distance change them, and the film becomes as much about them growing up as it is about their relationship.
Sound effectively manipulates the viewer’s emotions throughout the film — whispers and soft voices characterize the entire first half and the volume increases with inevitable shouting matches when the two are at their worst — and music is used very sparingly, with a soundtrack as indie (M83, Asobi Seksu, Fool’s Gold) as the movie itself. It helps to forge an audience connection that is so subtle you don’t fully realize it until you find yourself internally booing Jennifer Lawrence — who, as an Academy Award nominee, is featured in the trailer for a role that isn’t even all that significant — whenever she steps onscreen. When it’s suddenly over and Stars’ “Dead Hearts” booms as the credits roll, you’re shaken out of your reverie and left questioning how Jacob and Anna’s story applies to your past, present or future.
More than anything else, Like Crazy is a heart-breaking, honest depiction of the overwhelming intensity and intimacy of young love. What sets it apart from other films with essentially the same plot is its simplicity. These people — their thoughts, feelings, words and actions — are all very real, and their story resonates with anyone who has ever been in love. Audience members will bring their personal histories to the movie: maybe you’ll be frustrated by Jacob’s stubbornness or Anna’s nonchalance; maybe you’ll be touched by their efforts; maybe you’ll know from your own experiences that, try as they might, these types of relationships aren’t destined for success. But, watching it happen, you can’t help but want things to work out, too.