SONG OF LOVE
AS every Hollywood producer knows, the course of true love never did run smooth. But how many obstacles can be placed in true love’s way in a single movie? In Like Crazy, American boy Jacob (Anton Yelchin) falls for English girl Anna (Felicity Jones) while they’re at college together in Los Angeles. When Anna overstays her student visa to spend the summer with Jacob in LA, doing what young lovers do in romantic movies — running on beaches, riding on rollercoasters — the US immigration department orders her back to England on the next plane.
I’ve skipped a few details here, all of them rather complicated and distressing. Even for married couples, it would seem there are legal barriers to lovers getting together. Is there any hope for Anna and Jacob? Is there any end to their problems? If Like Crazy had been made in the 1970s one of them would probably have a terminal illness as well, and Francis Lai would have composed a suitably tearful score.
The director is Drake Doremus, who makes the twists and obstacles in his story feel painfully credible. The result is one of the most beautiful films I can remember about young love — its ecstasy, its irrational intensity, its aching sadness. The film won the grand jury prize at last year’s Sundance festival, and it’s hard to think of anything else quite like it: Blue Valentine, perhaps, the one with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, or 500 Days of Summer, another boymeets-girl story with Zooey Deschanel. I’d have to go back to Blue Lagoon, the 1949 British weepie with Jean Simmons and Donald Houston playing youngsters shipwrecked in a tropical island, in which rapture and unreality were laid on in equal measure.
The charm of Doremus’s film is that it’s rooted in the hassle and awkwardness of everyday life.
Though he’s credited with the writing of Like Crazy, Doremus insists the script was largely improvised. And we can believe it. The dialogue has an extraordinary freshness and spontaneity, and Yelchin and Jones deliver performances of such enchanting candour and naturalism we seem to inhabit their world. There are moments I don’t think anyone could have directed — in the sense of imposing a style on the performers. Even those three little words, enshrined in song, which nowadays sound corny in just about any spoken context, seem gloriously right when spoken by Anna and Jacob.
These lovers are hard to resist. Jones was a sweet Miranda in Julie Taymor’s film of The Tempest — it was the last time I saw her — and Yelchin, though he’s been around a while and had a solid part in the 2009 Star Trek, still looks young enough to be a lovesick kid. But you wouldn’t exactly call him a heartthrob: Doremus has given him a plain, rather solemn look (he hardly ever shoots him smiling) and in a culture built on conventional notions of glamour you might wonder what Anna sees in him. But we never doubt their love is real and deep.
Jacob has done a course in furniture design (and started what seems to be a flourishing business). When he presents Anna, a journalism graduate now working for a magazine, with a comfortable new chair for her writing desk, her reactions tells us everything about them.
Doremus knows to vary the pace and mood to keep us alert to new pleasures. Too much mooching and mournfulness would have flattened the story. There are funny scenes with Anna’s family in England when Jacob goes over for parental inspection and approval. Anna’s father (shrewdly played by Oliver Muirhead) is one of those overbearingly jovial and ever-so-sensible fellows — a recognisable English type — with a propensity for disarming frankness. ‘‘ If you two got married it would save me an awful lot of money,’’ he tells Anna and Jacob without really explaining why, and the lovers are happy enough to follow his advice.
The marriage, at a registry in Camden, is one of those deeply off-putting occasions conducted by a breezy, well-meaning celebrant. But surely, we think — now that Jacob and Anna are joined in a ‘‘ solemn and binding contract’’ — all will be plain sailing. No more enforced separations, no more legal tangles, no more fears and suspicions.
We see it coming, of course. Jacob has an assistant in his furniture workshop, attractive blonde Samantha (Jennifer Laurence), and you bet she’s keen on him. And who is this Simon (Charlie Bewley), one of Anna’s new friends in London, otherwise remembered as a vampire in the Twilight saga?
Like Crazy runs for only 89 minutes, and there would have been time for Doremus to develop these small but vital characters more fully. But his focus remains firmly on Anna and Jacob and the obstacles in their way. I remember a term for relationships where lovers were separated by long distances. They were said to be GI — geographically impossible — not because the distances were unbridgeable but because the temptations thrown up by enforced separation were often too much to resist.
Things are no easier, it seems, in an age of texting and mobile phones. One of the saddest, most desperate images in the film is a close-up of the words ‘‘ Can u call me?’’ on Anna’s mobile. And soon the lovers’ endearments are being supplanted by other familiar phrases: Don’t shout. Why didn’t you tell me? Did you sleep with him — yes or no?
In any other film it would be considered a happy ending — a miraculous deliverance for Jacob and Anna from the legal tangles besetting their lives. But in Like Crazy we are left to wonder.
The irony of the final scenes is profoundly moving. It would be a simplistic ending that had Anna and Jacob restored to their former unsullied happiness. It would be no less simplistic to imply that their troubles were all the result of misunderstandings, bureaucratic rigidities and sheer bad luck. That Samantha would be as loving and worthy a partner for Jacob as Anna we have no doubt. That Simon seems to us every bit as decent and devoted a lover as Jacob speaks not for the weakness of the characters but for the film’s moral complexity.
Doremus has made one of the few mature and searching films about the nature of young love — its lingering sorrows, its precarious joys.
Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in Like Crazy