For every Like Crazy, which examines young love with aching authenticity and poignancy, there are a dozen low-budget dramas on the subject that don't work at all. Film festivals are littered with the carcasses of these failed attempts, which often seem to have been made because the director's girlfriend dumped him and he thought an unembellished reenactment of the experience in front of a camera would make for a good movie. Everyone has been in love, after all; surely everyone will relate to a love story that is typical.
But it's actually very difficult to get audiences to connect with an ordinary story, one that spends most of its time with two characters whose experiences aren't magical, comedic, overtly tragic, or in any other obvious way "cinematic." Getting audiences engaged in stories that follow traditional fictional patterns -- i.e., that are more like movies and less like real life -- is much easier.
Like Crazy is the rare example of an "ordinary love story" drama that works. Starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as a lovestruck couple in their early 20s, the film (directed by Drake Doremus and co-written by him and Ben York Jones) covers the ups and downs of their relationship with astonishing honesty and clarity. It would be enough for a movie to accurately convey the giddiness of young love, or the misery of long-distance relationships, or the deeply felt pangs of breaking up, or any of the other facets of a typical romance. This one covers them all, and does it succinctly. In barely 90 minutes, we feel like we've experienced an entire relationship.
Jacob and Anna, both college students in sunny Los Angeles, fall in love in the adorably giddy manner of young people, complete with note-writing and gift-giving and impulsive decisions to blow off deadlines in favor of more time together. Upon graduation, Anna must return to her native England according to the terms of her student visa and spend a few months there before getting the necessary paperwork to come back to L.A., but the thought of spending the summer apart is almost unbearable for them. And so because of their love, their exuberance, and their youthful inexperience, Jacob and Anna make some poor choices. Show me one person who has ever been in love who has not done the same!
When Anna does return to England, for a friend's wedding, her visa infraction prevents her from coming back again, resulting in an even longer separation for her and Jacob than if she'd followed the rules in the first place. As keenly as we felt the joy of their idyllic early relationship, now we feel the agony of being apart. There are no grand, operatic reasons for it, either. His being in California while she's in London sucks because the eight-hour time difference makes it hard to communicate, and because plane tickets to London are expensive. As doubts and fears creep in, what formerly seemed like a relationship destined to last forever now seems fragile.
Yelchin and Jones reportedly improvised a lot of their dialogue, which explains why it sounds so natural and unforced, the way real people talk. Their banter is playful but not cutesy or overwritten. When they are frustrated or angry, they speak from the heart, not from the screenwriters' collection of clever retorts. The characters' actions, though scripted, likewise ring true. You know those things that happen all the time in movies but almost never in reality? None of those things happen here. Instead, the couple's story is related through small, true-to-life details that paint an unidealized portrait of love -- the euphoria, the sadness, and everything in between.