Soon after watching Like Crazy, indie director Drake Doremus’ foray into romantic comedy, I flicked on a song called ‘In a Manner of Speaking’, by French neo-jazz band Nouvelle Vague. It appears my subconscious was in full flow, because the song’s aphoristic lyric, “you told me everything, by saying nothing”, neatly summarises the magnetism of the two young lovers in Doremus’ story, which is most effectively portrayed when it is left unsaid, in the indulgent gazes and fleeting glances of newcomers Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, who play Anna and Jacob.
We first encounter Anna as an English exchange student studying in Los Angeles. She leaves a heartfelt note on the windscreen of class-mate Jacob’s car, and they promptly meet for coffee. It is here in the awkward chit-chat of their first date that the firmly naturalistic tone of the film is established. Leaving a lot to improvisation, Doremus succeeds in portraying truly realistic conversation, and in the universally relatable context of first-date conversation-making, it serves as an effective tool for drawing the audience in.
It’s not long before Anna and Jacob establish a deeper connection, and the first months of their relationship progress seamlessly. Come the end of summer, however, time’s up; Anna’s student visa has expired, and the airport beckons. Overawed by the immediacy of their infatuation, however, the couple throw caution to the wind and embark on a summer of love, represented by a quirky vignette from Doremus. As such, when Anna does eventually need to fly in to the US, she encounters the brick-wall of homeland security, and a web of bureaucracy leaves the couple in a state of inertia, flitting between unity and separation with the ebb and flow of the Atlantic that divides them.
The nature of the long-distance relationship takes its toll on the couple, who both establish parallel relationships with others despite, ultimately, remaining in love. Jennifer Lawrence is particularly striking as Samantha, Jacob’s workshop assistant and home-time girlfriend. The easy option is not taken, and these extra relationships are not portrayed superficially. Doremus has us feel for Samantha, as an unfortunate casualty in an unfortunate situation.
One strength of the film is the way our feelings are manipulated throughout. We are made to empathise with the lovers even though they behave selfishly, allowing their inner struggles to inflict pain on others. Glimpses of antagonism and disconnectedness leave us guessing as to whether Jacob is a manipulative hedonist or confused individual, and Yelchin’s glazed stare can prove intriguingly unreadable.
Of course, being a romantic comedy, the film doesn’t disappoint for fans of twee. As the lovers press their hands together on either side of a pane of glass, one can’t help but wince, and scenes of this nature permeate the film mercilessly throughout. More wincing can be found in the dialogue, which, despite frequently achieving an impressive degree of naturalism, can border on irritatingly idle chat.
Overall, however, Like Crazy is an enjoyable and unconventional take on a familiar genre. The film comes to life in its moments of pathos, and refuses to revel in the jollity of young love. If you’re a fan of love-stories but fed up with being retold the same one, this film is for you.