No theme in drama touches the heart more than the separation of lovers. In classic dramas from Romeo and Juliet to Wuthering Heights, we empathize with the feelings of sadness and loss that estrangement brings and can relate them to our own experience. Some stories of separation, however, lack deeply-drawn characters and do not have the same emotional impact. Such is the case with Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy, the story of a young couple having to engage in a long-distance relationship as a result of the violation of immigration requirements. It is a sincere film from the director’s own experience, but one that ultimately comes up empty.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie follows Anna (Felicity Jones), a British exchange student at a Los Angeles college and Jacob (Anton Yelchin), a Furniture Design major who is a Teaching Assistant in Anna’s writing class. After she places a love note on his windshield after class, the two begin a whirlwind relationship that develops so fast that before we can swallow our popcorn and think of how we met our first love, they are way ahead of us, already pledging their undying love.
While the two young lovers are immensely appealing, we witness no genuine development of their relationship, only derivative montages showing them at an amusement park, playing in the sand, kissing under a full moon, and, of course, running along a beach. The dialogue is mostly improvised to promote “realism,” but the lovers are not well defined and come across as seemingly without interest in anything outside of themselves (other than Paul Simon). We see the physical passion on the screen but it never feels authentic, more like movie-love, determined to call attention to itself with a series of time-lapse snapshots and other cinematic gimmicks.
The main thrust of Like Crazy is the separation of Anna and Jacob brought about by the U.S. Immigration authorities. Originally planning to go home for the summer, Anna decides to stay with Jacob for a few months, unaware of or not caring about the fact that she is overstaying her student visa limitation. When she does go home for a brief visit to attend a wedding, on her return she comes up against immigration regulations designed to weed out terrorists and other undesirables. The Immigration Officer (Iris Taylor Cameron) emphatically makes Anna aware of her transgressions and forbids her to re-enter the U.S.
Though most people struggle to gain a rung on the economic ladder after leaving school, both Anna and Jacob have become successes in their professions only one year after graduation, Anna writing for a magazine on her way to being made a junior editor, and Jacob running a successful furniture business. After several back and forth visits between London and Los Angeles, they break-up, then reconcile before they are again driven apart once again by disagreements. Distracted by their work and their enforced separation, they never seem to recapture the energy of their first experience and are drawn into other relationships, Jacob with Sam (Jennifer Lawrence) and Anna with Simon (Charlie Bewley), but neither relationship is fully satisfying and there is little truth-telling.
Despite a thin script, it is hard to deny the quality of the performances by Jones and Yelchin, and those of Anne’s parents (Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead) who give the film a much needed lightness of tone. In some respect, Like Crazy shows the sad plight of immature young people drawn into situations that are not of their own making. Yet to me, the characters are defined, not as victims of overbearing forces that are determined to keep them apart, but by their own absence of responsibility, commitment, and integrity, values that may seem old-fashioned but are an important part of the new story that is in the process of re-envisioning society.