Monday, March 12, 2012

Netflix This: Like Crazy

     I recently re-watched 500 Days of Summer because a friend wanted to see it. I won't name names here. Upon that viewing, I realized how much I hated it. It's full of cliche, sappy, trying-way-too-hard-to-be-hip dialogue and humor, and its characters name drop so-called good bands at a hilarious rate. It wasn't the cast's fault: the script was just too darned cute for its own good. When Like Crazy came in the mail, I was more than a little concerned that it would fall into the same trap. Luckily, I was more than pleasantly surprised: the film's one of the better movies to come out of 2011, a sad and honest tale about a young couple who just can't stick together for a plethora of reasons.
      Like Crazy won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Drama, arguably the highest honor of any film festival in a given year. That may not mean much to some, but when films such as Winter's Bone, Frozen River, Primer, The Believer, and Blood Simple have won in previous years, it's surely something to take note of.
     The story is simple and has been told in various ways throughout dozens of years and hundreds of films. It's a story about love and the difficulties of being in love. Jacob and Anna are both college students in Los Angeles. Anna is a British exchange student, and she instantly has a liking to the quiet and talented Jacob, who--at a young age of 22--is already starting his career as a furniture maker. They quickly make a connection and start to grow as a couple. Anna convinces herself that it would be a wonderful idea to stay the summer after the school year with Jacob, staying in bed all day and falling more and more in love as every minute passes. Unfortunately, staying the entire summer has consequences: Anna overstays her Student Visa, and when she tries to come back to L.A. from London after a short family obligation, she is detained and sent back on a plane to her homeland. This begins a frustrating and tension-filled ride that contains a long-distance relationship, each character getting involved in their work and other lovers, Visa problems, and the question of whether or not two people can still be in love after months apart and life's everyday problems getting in the way at every turn.
     As I said, love stories like this have been told before. But Like Crazy is original and honest enough to rise high above typical romantic fare. The director, Drake Doremus (whom I hadn't heard of before this film), has stated that the script is fully improvised, and it shows. Each word feels natural and unforced, as do the gestures, nervousness of a strained relationship, and the unfortunate circumstances that Jacob and Anna each place themselves in. It goes beyond most romantic garbage that gets assembly-lined into the theaters nowadays, surprising the viewer with its in-depth intimacy.
     Does Like Crazy have the occasional corny line of dialogue or sappy facial expression? Of course: all relationships do, as do all films about relationships. It doesn't hurt the enjoyment. It also doesn't hurt that the film stars an actor and an actress who are destined to become stars. Anton Yelchin plays Jacob, and he is always likable: whether the film is Alpha Dog, Star Trek, or The Beaver, he is always natural, funny and easy to watch. Felicity Jones plays Anna, and she will break your heart more than a few times in Like Crazy. A complete natural and completely beautiful, every scene that she is in glues your eyes to the screen.
    Be warned: the film isn't a great one to watch with a new significant other. Some have called it a movie to watch with someone you're about to break up with. But that's a harsh statement: though Like Crazy is about a couple who have to hurdle seemingly impossibly-high obstacles (and often failing), it also shows that love can cause you to jump really fucking high on occasion.

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