We, the human race, are a bunch of suckers for romance. As often as movies get derided for excessive action and thin plots, the fact that nearly every flick ever made has a courtship near its center somehow never seems to rub anyone the wrong way. We love to see love on the big screen, because it’s just about the only narrative that everyone can relate to on some level. Quite frankly, romances don’t have to work as hard as other films to win us over; They’ve already got us in their pocket. The fact that Like Crazy packs some emotional punch is undeniable, because it’s so easy to see ourselves in the picture. It was always going to be an effecting movie simply because of what it is, and what it has to say. True merit is another thing, entirely.
Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Ana (Felicity Jones) are madly in love. We know this because they make eyes at each other, read poetry together, and sprint aimlessly across gorgeous California beaches. They go to school together in Los Angeles, Jacob a resident, Ana from Britain, studying in the states on a student visa. In fact, the two are so intertwined with one another that Ana decides to stay the summer even after her temporary citizenship is spent. Just as things were going so well, Ana tries to hop continents, and is detained for her violation, and shipped back home. Forcibly separated, the pair endure years of missed calls, burning yearning, and botched side romances, unable to find happiness with their distance, but unable to fall for anyone else while apart.
Yelchin and Jones are terrific in the movie, making eyes at one another, exploding into bouts of immature, fiery desire and jealousy. The early scenes, where the two are young and bright and new, crackle with their ever-grinning chemistry. Their connection is what Like Crazy truly has going for it: On just about every other level, all bets are off. The screenplay, as penned by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones, is at times laughably sentimental, sending its characters through routine interactions without adorning them with any particular intrigue (unless you really, really, really like your movies to pile on the cute. I like some, but tis is ridiculous). Conversations about post-college life and feelings for other people are so plain and mundane in their verbiage, it often comes off sounding like a rough draft of a good idea that just isn't there yet.
The aforementioned Doremus also serves as director, but his behind-the-camera efforts are mostly in line with his written contributions. The guy is obsessed with montages, subbing them in where meat-and-potatoes storytelling should be. Don't believe me? Wait until you see THE ENTIRE SUMMER that doomed their romance zoom by in an (admittedly lovely) collection of still photos of the two in bed together. This desire to turn its head away from trickier narrative elements remains prevalent throughout the film, choking out interesting, dicey moments for another fight, or another artsy time-filler. The film is at once far too hasty in its storytelling, and far too long in its runtime, right around the most damning thing that you could really say about a flick.
The points that Like Crazy is trying to make are valid and worth lending voice, but the lack of conviction from all those not named Yelchin and Jones is mightily disheartening. American independent cinema's last high-profile downer-love-story, Blue Valentine, dished out it's tough-to-hear messages by being unflinching, showing the fissures in the partnership, and the way that those around the couple affected their fate. It dug deeply, and unearthed something troubling and true. Like Crazy knows it wants to bum you out, but it doesn't seem too interested in looking at the deeper implications and feelings of its protagonists. A better title might be, "Love Fades: The Movie." Messages of that levity and weight are better left to better films.