By Patrick Z. McGavin
Sundance Film Fest 2011 (Dramatic competition world premiere)–The young filmmaker Drake Doremus makes a startling leap forward both technically and aesthetically with his third feature “Like Crazy,” a French New Wave-inflected mood piece charting the jagged and unpredictable emotional currents of a young couple.
The film marks the second consecutive year the 27-year-old Doremus has premiered a movie in the Sundance dramatic competition. Last year’s “Douchebag” featured some compelling parts, but the whole was damaged by the ill-conceived central character whose extreme self-regard and neurosis made the work difficult to connect to.
Doremus worked on the script with Ben York Jones, who played the second lead in “Douchebag.” That second feature was fairly harsh and abrasive. The new work is elliptical and impressionistic, shot largely hand held. Like most of the touchstones it is indebted to, films such as Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” or John Cassavetes’s “Shadows,” “Like Crazy” has an impulsive and gliding quality that colors the mood and tone and yields a fresh and lovely texture.
At the same time, the movie is likely to divide people. As storytelling, the movie requires some fundamental leaps of logic and plausibility. Doremus sacrifices character depth for style and form. In the second half, he strains for some dramatic contrasts and symbolism that proves a little emphatic.
Even so, the imperfect parts never cancel out what is distinctive and interesting. The characters are willing to plunge into difficult areas, and the movie has a limber, avid quality, a sense of quest, that propels the material constantly forward. “Like Crazy” examines the intoxicating possibility of love and loss with seriousness and tact.
The story details the tense, prickly and unconventional relationship between Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones). At first, their attraction seems inevitable. The two are introduced as they approach their graduation from a Los Angeles university. She’s a British exchange student studying journalism, beautiful, bright, and terrifically composed. He’s a ruggedly good looking charmer with a sensitive side who builds eclectic furniture.
Anna initiates matters with a deeply confessional note– “I hope you don’t think I’m a nutcase,” she writes. In one swoop, the two are feverishly drawn to each other, inseparable and intoxicated by the lyrical possibilities of love and solidarity. Doremus and his very talented cinematographer John Guleserian work in tight, compacted spaces and a narrow depth of field that annotates the sense of rupture and excitement between the lovers.
The filmmaking is mostly tactile and expressive. It’s captured in a rush of often spellbinding imagery, like a reverse angle shot of Jacob riding a go-cart, overwhelmed by the speed and exhilaration of the moment. Like the romantic reveries of Wong Kar-Wai (“Happy Together”), the filmmakers keep the camera close to the actors, by pivoting, dancing and swirling around their bodies in creating an ecstatic whirl.
If the opening movement has a liquid flow, the middle and closing passages are shaded by a darker and more pessimistic register. The nature of their relationship is forever changed by a seemingly unremarkable personal action when, in the heat of a passionate “last night,” Anna overstays the requirements of her student visa after the idea of separation from Jacob proves unbearable.
The decision proves astonishingly reckless a couple of weeks later, when Anna is detained by immigration authorities in Los Angeles and repatriated to London. Immediately, the tone shifts from surrender and possibility to something far more difficult and complicated.
As the story shuttles between Los Angeles and London, careening between the fluid shifts in attitudes and feelings between the two, the inevitable confusion and uncertainty about the relationship erupts.
The two are suddenly forced apart, the difficulties of the relationship further complicated by their rising professional careers. Anna lands a job at a prominent London magazine and Jacob’s custom-made furniture business flourishes. The separation naturally brings about stain and confusion. Jacob proves particularly aloof and distant, a sharp contrast to Anna’s persistent need for approval.
Overall, the writing is graceful and understated the imagery succinct and movingly precise. If the opening movement was predicated on a dazzling speed, the middle and closing passages are much more mournful, delicate and haunting.
Doremus and his excellent young actors are very good at illustrating the disrupted tempos. As the early excitement and deep attraction subsides, the two must negotiate a more difficult emotional terrain of shifting needs, control and independence.
Separated and confused, the two are suddenly drawn to others. Jacob enters into a relationship with Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence of “Winter’s Bone”). Anna is more circumspect and probably feels guilty, though even she eventually surrenders to her own needs and takes up with her good looking neighbor, Simon (Charlie Bewley).
“Like Crazy” moves tentatively from there, the time passing quickly, but it sharply delineates the rancor, disappointment and jealousy of the central relationship. As the second half is related through a series of contrasts, the telling proves both unpredictable and cruel. The narrative may not always make sense, but it never shrugs from pain and violation in exploring the consequences of tumult and excitement.
“Like Crazy” boasts two sharp and compelling performances, showing that however volatile and moody the relationship, Jacob and Anna are permanently bound.