Failed relationships are fairly universal, and frankly, the non-self-destructive amongst us make a concerted effort to avoid them. Even the twee entries into the anti-romance sub-genre (e.g., 500 Days of Summer) provide a certain challenge for that very reason. We project ourselves onto these characters and their conflicts, and sometimes, when they hit home, it can feel all too real. Other times, it becomes cathartic. For me, Like Crazy was a little bit of both.
Movie Review: Like Crazy
By Joshua Pasch
December 5, 2011
Like Crazy is the story of two young lovers who meet while in college in Los Angeles. Jacob, a quiet and softly funny American boy, is the TA for an English class where he meets Anna, a lovely and eloquent British girl. And they are just a boy and girl – prone to the rash decisions of 20-something college kids. So it’s rather believable when Anna impulsively decides to overstay her visa for a summer past their graduation. This decision ultimately becomes a plot device for keeping the couple apart, as Jacob’s business is in Los Angeles, and Anna has US immigration law to contend with before being allowed back stateside. As they struggle towards a permanent reunion, we watch as their love matures, and in many ways fades. The movie raises questions of commitment and true love – but it does so in the least obvious or preachy of ways.
Again, the themes of Like Crazy aren’t revolutionary. Think of it as 500 Days of Summer’s grown up sibling (that isn’t a slight, by the way). Like Crazy doesn’t care if it makes you cry – it doesn’t want to give you a fantastical musical number to help lighten the mood. There is no young sister to provide witty commentary on Jacob’s love life strife. It might be a movie about kids, but this is an adult movie. Like Crazy is so damn sincere, it’s searing. Minutes at a time stretch along with hardly any dialogue, allowing you to easily project yourself and your romantic past onto the characters you’re watching. By the end of it all, you’ll swear that writer/director Drake Doremus based this movie on your life. (Of course, that isn’t true – he based it on his own.)
The film is a brisk 90-minute affair, and somehow years pass in that amount of time without anything feeling rushed. No scene is extraneous; the pacing is purposeful, while still feeling relaxed. There is a simple scene when Jacob and Anna read out on a balcony on Catalina Island. Almost nothing is said, but it’s hardly a wasted moment – it’s saying a hundred different things about what they’re feeling and how they’ve changed.
Part of the movie’s charm, and part of why we can invest in it so deeply, is the subtleness of Jacob’s and Anna’s shared moments. Other than a few blips of romantic tropes at the start of their romance, (e.g., Jacob and Anna on the beach, Jacob and Anna riding bumper cars), Doremus stays away from the clichés of other romance films. We don’t watch them make love, we don’t watch them share a first kiss, we don’t even get to hear the contents of the love letter that Anna writes to Jacob to kick-start their romance. Instead, we watch them dance, alone in a hotel room. We watch them share their fears with one another while whispering under the covers. We watch Jacob read her letter silently, and we watch the grin widen on his face. In these moments, we know their intimacies, we know their fears, and we know they’re smitten. Rarely has young love ever been this genuine on screen.
Once the visa snafu (transgression really), fates Jacob and Anna to a transcontinental relationship, everything devolves. They are faced with the emptiness of being apart, and over the course of months that bleed into years, with very little time spent together, their love, and the void that it’s left them with, is more burden than buoy. They try to forget each other. They try to see other people. At one point Anna calls Jacob and confesses: this feeling she has, it isn’t going away. You have to wonder, is that feeling still love? Do Anna and Jacob even know what they’re chasing?
Most wonderfully this barrenness is expressed in a scene where Anna watches Jacob from across the aisle on the train on the way to the airport; then, after she drops him off, she watches the empty seat across from her on her return train ride. It isn’t easy to watch. I’ve felt that emptiness before – most people have. Compounding Anna’s and Jacob’s loneliness is this new fear that perhaps they don’t miss each other anymore. Perhaps they’re just plain old lonely. More than anything, they’re confused. We know all of this, without it ever being explicitly discussed between them.
The movie silently forces the question upon us: do we love the one we’re with because that love is true, impossible to replicate, and forever? Or, do we love the one we’re with because that person is the one nearby? If that person weren’t around, would we love someone else? Certainly, in the absence of one another’s company, Jacob and Anna find some appealing substitutes. These substitutes will eventually have to face the harsh realization that neither Jacob nor Anna knows what they want any longer. They don’t even know if they want one another. They don’t even know if they still love each other. But they do need each other. Like crazy, they need to be back together. They need to see if they can reignite that nutcase-desire for one another. In the movie’s final scene they are reunited finally, but it’s impossible to tell if they’ll be happy or not. They aren’t used to one another anymore and you realize, they probably can’t tell yet either. They’re clinging to it, and the ending is just ambiguous enough to find some faint hopefulness there – that is, if you’re still a hopeless romantic by the time you watch this movie.
Let me also say that I recognize that anti-romance films can be difficult to watch. And some of them, I hate. For example, I’m no fan of Sideways. Part of that, I’m certain, is because I can’t relate, even a little bit, to the failed trysts of middle-aged men. That is why some people, perhaps those that haven’t done a long distance relationship, will not take kindly to Like Crazy. That’s to be expected. But the most barbed criticism of Like Crazy is that Jacob can simply move to London (a point that the movie does touch on at one point); this stance contends that the entire conflict of the movie – the visa issues that separate these two characters – doesn’t ring true. I would counter that Jacob’s unwillingness to moving across the world from LA to London is a way of communicating his stalled passion, or perhaps his fear of commitment to a girl he knows he fell in love with, but isn’t positive he still loves. His decision (or lack of decision) to commit to a move is indicative of just how scared and unsure he is to invest every inch of himself into this relationship. It’s just one more means of subtle commentary that Demarus uses to tell his story.