Anna is a British student studying creative writing in America. She falls in love with American student Jacob, a furniture design major. It's love at first sight. The only catch--a huge one--is the strict immigration and travel visa issues that control international travel into the United States post-9/11. Without the immigration issue, Like Crazy would be a competently made and well-performed romance film. With it, Like Crazy finds an honest angle on an old formula that only begins to fail when cliches of the romance film take over in the last thirty minutes. Is a unique angle alone enough to overcome the pitfalls of a genre that even in non-comedic forms plays like a Mad Libs version of the same story over and over again? Not when the writer/director feels compelled to throw all of those fill-in-the-blank aspects at the tail end of the film.
There are three great strengths to Like Crazy: the score, the editing, and the performances. Dustin O'Halloran produces a beautiful and effective piano/string quartet score that establishes the emotional resonance needed to carry time-passing montages. The rhythm is consistent--driving eighth notes on a piano with chord changes on string. The tone and style change scene by scene to reflect the appropriate mood. A particularly happy period in the couple's life will be bright major tones, while a period of struggle shifts to somber shades of minor; diminished and augmented chords even come in to punctuate moments of depression and mania, respectively. It is not film scoring that demands attention (I barely noticed it until halfway through the film), but it's the kind of film scoring that would be missed if it disappeared.
This film is edited to perfection. In crafting a low budget feature, it becomes essential to find an editor who can work around a great number of issues. Like Crazy in particular seems to have been plagued with live location sound issues, resulting in dubbing, voice-overs, and some very slick montages that probably tell the story better than a more straight forward approach would have. I barely noticed the dubbing used to get just the right framing for a scene until--for a brief instant--Anna's mouth did not move when she said one word. Again, because the quality of the editing is so high, I'd be challenged to find the same exact scene again. It's just worth mentioning that, yes, even with a litany of indie cliches--time lapse photography, scenes fading in and out of a smoky haze, extreme close-ups or intentionally distant framing--Like Crazy manages to seem fresh, slick, and watchable.
All the editing and scoring in the world can't cover for poor performance. Thank goodness the four young people forming all of the romantic interest and conflict in the film are more than up to the task. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Charlie Bewley, as Jacob's employee and Anna's friend respectively, do amazing things with only a few scenes to work with. Lawrence in particular has one of the most emotionally resonant moments in the entire film without a single line of dialog.
The real focus of the film falls on Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, Anna and Jacob. They both give such natural performances that they win you over before the film even tries to stand apart as anything but a typical love at first sight romance. The actors only get two or three big scenes--all connected to the immigration/visa issues--and do fine with them.
The big strength is the quiet acting. The key to their performances are in their eyes. So often, the characters have to put on a brave face when they feel absolutely gutted over the struggles of the long distance relationship; these moments are not overplayed in the least bit. A quiver of a lip or a distracted stare are enough to show that they are perfectly capable of hiding any problem they have from everyone except for each other. It's a startling realistic approach to romance on film that, combined with the editing and scoring, give this film its emotional resonance.
Like Crazy is a fine romance film hindered in the final act by a turn to cliches. It's not even that the cliches are poorly handled; they're as well-made and performed as the rest of the film. They just seem completely out of pace with everything else that happened.
Part of the point is to show how special Anna and Jacob's romance is with contrast. The problem is that writer/director Drake Doremus swings so far into the cliches that it feels like a complete emotional and narrative disconnect from the rest of the film. A stronger hand would have made these scenes feel as organic as the first meeting.
Even with the underwhelming shift near the end of the film, Like Crazy will appeal to romance, indie, and acting fans. So much is so right that you can forgive a series of fumbles near the end. The final scene alone washes away so many of the mistakes of the past, both technically and narratively.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.