Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Drive Me Crazy

With really nothing else in theaters to really capture my interest at the moment (at least until The Muppets comes out this week), I decided to take the time to see a small critically-acclaimed title that had been on many "must-see" lists earlier this Fall. However, there were a couple of reasons I wasn't entirely convinced that Like Crazy would be worth my time or money. For one, star Anton Yelchin hadn't proved to me that he could carry a major motion picture. Sure, he was fine in his limited role on the Star Trek reboot, but he was very weak compared to his co-stars in Terminator: Salvation and a leading role in this year's remake of Fright Night was almost enough to discredit his whole career to that point (I believe my damning words called him "a poor man's Shia Lebeouf"). The other reason I wasn't wholly into seeing this title was, well, I really didn't know if I wanted to see a depressing film about love and relationships. If this had been some blockbuster Hollywood release, you know that the two lovebirds would have had only minimal conflict between one another on the way to a guaranteed happy ending. Like Crazy however is an indie romance, almost certainly portending that the relationship between them will be the most excruciating hour and a half spent in the movies this year. It wasn't a situation I relished throwing myself into, and only a complete lack of alternatives (not to mention strong word of mouth) led me to begrudgingly enter the theater and take this release in before future films could shove it to the wayside.

Please, let there not be a crappy "sand" love speech coming on...
Like Crazy tells the story of the romantic relationship between Jacob (Yelchin), a design student, and Anna (Felicity Jones), a British exchange student, as they meet and fall in love in college in Jacob's home town of Los Angeles. Unable to be apart after graduating school, Anna decides to ignore the expiration of her student visa to spend the summer with Jacob, which eventually leads to her being deported to her native United Kingdom. Finding themselves in a difficult long distance relationship, the two can only see one another occasionally and when they do, their increasingly separate lives (which includes trying to see other people) make them feel as if the hundreds of miles of distance is between them even when they stand mere inches apart.

She won't be happy much longer
Not content to tell a simple story, Like Crazy tells the entirety of Jacob and Anna's relationship from beginning to end, and then beginning to end ad infinatum. This is no monochromatic love tale, as several levels of emotion are delved into, with love itself being just the most common. Jealousy, regret, fear and frustration all rear their ugly heads, and rarely is there a happy moment once the two are initially torn apart. It's in the conveyance of these feelings where Like Crazy really does shine, as the highs and lows between these lovers are intricately felt by the audience thanks to the fact that they are rendered in so realistic a manner. We really feel for Jacob and Anna as they move from conflict to conflict, whether it be with each other or the ban keeping them apart.

Wearing the guy's shirt... does that really happen? Ever?
If the film suffers from any real problems, it's the narrative flow of the story, which often makes great leaps between scenes, as obviously a great amount of time has passed without any explanation given as to what has transpired in the meantime. For instance, when Jacob is shown to having developed a new relationship with his co-worker Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence), it isn't readily apparent that Anna even knows that this is happening. This storytelling method creates a few conflicting scenarios where we feel angry at a character's apparent actions, only to discover that we had read the situation incorrectly in the first place. This could have been corrected by young director Drake Doremus, but since the young filmmaker was apparently too busy creating a realistic romantic setting, he can be forgiven for not immediately telling us every single detail. In fact, a lot of what is so charming about this film is what is left out, many scenes hiding what is said between Jacob and Anna like so many whispers from Bob Harris to be heard only by Charlotte. By not making us absorb every little detail, we can focus on the major themes set forth.

Well, maybe she can be a LITTLE happy...
The acting is of a higher caliber than I originally imagined, as well. Playing completely normal people, Yelchin and Jones are both endearing and admirable, with Jones especially mastering that inner turmoil that comes with her particularly darker moments. She plays happy too, and there doesn't seem to be anything that she can't do well. This comes as somewhat of a shock after I was sure she had bombed out from appearing in Julie Taymor's miserable 2010 version of The Tempest. Apparently she's learned to emote after all, and the result is one of the strongest performances by a woman I've seen in 2011. Yelchin is still a little dry, but he also puts his best foot forward, playing well opposite both Jones and Lawrence. I'm sure working with such talent helped him immensely, and I was happy to see him churn out a good performance for a change. Lawrence actually excels in a small role, no small feat after putting up what I thought was a substandard act in one of this year's better titles, X-Men First Class. Playing the "other woman", seeing Samantha caught in the middle of Jacob and Anna's unrequited affections is quite painful, made stronger by Lawrence's disarmingly subtle performance.

No, I said cue sadness, dammit!
I wasn't expecting it, but in one fell (and relatively short) swoop, I became witness to one of the great romances of 2011. Granted, it WAS depressing as all hell, and by the end we're not sure where the relationship between Jacob and Anna will go. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to NOT be a twitching pile of neuroses when the whole thing was well and done, and I can easily recommend this to any who would love to take in a modern romance that isn't ineptly put together by cliches anonymous. It may not be in the year's Top 10, but it's still a great film that young couples can hold as their own and older audiences can nostalgically admire from afar.


Anonymous said...

Can you please just review a film without a paragraph telling me why you went or what your preconceived notions were going in. I get it. Your preconceptions will either be correct or you'll be pleasantly surprised. It happens in every single review. Here’s my preconceived notion before I read your reviews... “Mr. Anderson will either wind up smugly correct or pleasantly surprised in the review I'm about to read as soon as he gets through the interminable preamble paragraph in which he tells me why he went to see this particular film in the first place.”
Donald W.

John "Gianni" Anderson said...

Wow, okay.

I do appreciate that you have read more than a few of my reviews, Donald, and I honestly do appreciate the criticism, as I would love to improve my writing skills. So by that extension any opportunity to stop repeating myself and make each review more unique is a welcome opportunity.

That said, as you've never actually commented on my blog before (and since I have no idea who you are), I can't help but be annoyed at the tone you brought to your argument. You're frustrated, I get it. I will try to cut down on the preconceived notions schtick, but calm down already. Jeez.