SONG OF LOVE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.