Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They fall in love. They face obstacles. They overcome these obstacles to reach their happy ending.
There’s nothing wrong with this very successful formula for a romance movie (see “The Notebook” or “Dirty Dancing”), but in spite of the attempts of its marketing team and certain overlapping plot points, “Like Crazy” is far more than the standard romantic drama. Starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as a boy and a girl who meet, fall in love and face obstacles, the movie promises a conventional love story but delivers an intimate, tender exploration of young love, its naiveté, its hardships and the slow, sometimes painful journey of growing up.
The film opens with Anna (Jones) delivering an oral presentation in class, while Jacob (Yelchin) doodles on his notebook and occasionally looks up only to find her eyes fixed on him. Anna, who we realize immediately is quite the writer, boldly leaves a long letter on Jacob’s windshield, which includes a poem, her phone number and a plea that he not find her a nutcase. Jacob takes her up on the offer, and we learn from a beautifully shot montage filled with sunshine, laughter and the Santa Monica pier, that the two have fallen deeply in love. However, the happiness is only temporary, as the English Anna must return to the U.K. after graduation. When she violates her student visa to stay with Jacob, the separation becomes a serious problem, and the rest of the movie follows their struggles as they try to navigate and overcome the distance and the inevitable flow of life.
Anyone who has been in a long-distance relationship knows that it is no easy feat, but Jones and Yelchin’s on-screen chemistry makes the couple irresistible. What really makes the movie, however, is how real it seems to us. Anna and Jacob are like any other couple we know or could be, from to the lamp in Anna’s dorm room to the awkwardness of their first date. This is due in part to the fact that the actors improvised the dialogue based on an outline from the director and elevates the movie from just another sweet but forgettable date movie to something deeper and more intimate. What “Like Crazy” is really about is how hard love is – how a relationship isn’t just holding hands and kissing, but something that requires work and dedication. No matter how perfect Anna and Jacob are together, their relationship isn’t perfect, which gives the film a distinct coming-of-age feel as the two fight and misunderstand one another and retreat within themselves while they make their way through the maze of love. Jones’ performance, in particular, gives Anna a distinctly naive feeling, from her ringing, childish laugh to her glowing face and the fanciful, overflowing letter she writes to Jacob.
Jones has been thoroughly applauded for her role as Anna, winning a Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Acting at Sundance earlier this year and continuing to receive plaudits as the awards season gathers steam. While deserved, this recognition unfairly overlooks Yelchin’s contribution to the film. As the more reserved of the two, Yelchin’s role is arguably more complex and more difficult than Jones’, and he anchors the film and provides a vivid contrast for Jones with his soulful eyes and quiet presence. While she captivates the audience with her energy and her dogged belief that they belong together, he keeps us guessing. Jacob loves Anna, but he won’t move to London. He dates another girl, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence) when they’re apart and seems so happy with her that we almost forget about Anna, but he flies 5,000 miles to see Anna when she asks. Yelchin carries these inconsistencies in his stride and makes them part of his layered, thoughtful character. At one point, he dances with Sam in a club after talking to an emotional Anna on the phone. The camera fixes on him as the lights from the party play upon his face, and Yelchin’s haunted eyes stare out beyond the screen and tell us exactly how difficult and complicated long-distance relationships are and can be.
Despite some slightly unbelievable details about their relationship (including a complete ignorance of modern methods of communication: Skype, anyone?) and a jarring ending that leaves plenty of room for thought and debate, “Like Crazy” is nothing if not a well-executed foray into the trials and tribulations of young love, with an arthouse flourish. Yelchin and Jones captivate us with their beauty, their youth, their happiness, their foolishness and their loss, reminding and urging us, if only for 88 minutes, to fall in love … like crazy.