'Like Crazy': A Natural, Genuine Love Story
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Fictional accounts of young love aren't generally notable for their understatement. But one of the more refreshing aspects of "Like Crazy" is that, its title notwithstanding, it tells an affecting and genuine-seeming tale on this theme with not just disarming naturalism, but an admirable sense of proportion. Shot on digital video with all of its actors improvising their characters' dialogue, the film, directed and co-written by Drake Doremus, effectively and economically and convincingly portrays not just the exhilarating rush people feel when they find themselves connecting in an electric way, but also the pain when that feeling has trouble sustaining past the commitments that "the real world" makes on it, and on the people who had been feeling it.
The film's premise is so simple it's almost dumb: Anna and Jacob are college students who meet semi-cute, if not preciously (Anna leaves a mash note, ending with the request that he not think of her as a nutcase, on Jacob's windshield), and then fall for each other in a big way. Anna's studying journalism (oy); Jacob designs furniture (at one point he builds her a cozy wooden chair to write in, burning the words of the film's title into its underside). Over conversations about whiskey and Paul Simon and other affinities, they form a strong bond largely unbothered by consideration of what they're going to do after graduation. They also don't take seriously enough the issue of Anna's student visa lapsing -- she's a British subject visiting the States for school. This impulsive lack of consideration forces the couple apart, and they fight their separation with a will even as their post-collegiate lives take them to new career opportunities and new love interests.
And that, as it happens, is pretty much it for story line. So if you like a nice romance with a plot, this might not be your thing. However, Doremus isn't so much interested in knotty narrative, or even narrative propulsion (although it's true that the 89-minute film is edited with intense precision) as he is in near-epiphanic moments. Thanks in large part to his cast (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are the lovers, Jennifer Lawrence and Charlie Bewley are the younger support, Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead, as Anna's parents, are the older support), this film has plenty of them: the look in the eyes of a parent when she realizes that her little girl has grown up in ways she hadn't imagined/counted on, the edge of hostility in a simple "what?" during what's supposed to be an ecstatic reunion, the resigned sigh of a character who can't bring himself to respond to a texted "I miss you" at the end of a particularly exhausting exchange.
This is a "small" film with a naturalistic feel, and as such, won't feel very "movieish" to viewers who look for something bigger in their theatrical experiences. But its empathy and artful way of conveying honest observation struck a chord with me, and it might do the same for you if you're not scared away by the fact that it won the jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.