There’s a New Wavey vibe to Drake Doremus’ second feature, a jumpy, elliptical account of a high-octane romance between two California college students that runs into difficulty when the girl, a British citizen, overstays her visa and is banned from returning to the country after a vacation back home. The stylistically free-wheeling spirit of the Godard who made a picture like “Breathless” isn’t far away from “Like Crazy.”
Nor is a similar intensity absent from the early relationship between Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin), classmates whose awkward first date—initiated by her—soon morphs into a passionate commitment to one another. It becomes so fervid, in fact, that when Anna’s student visa runs out, she declines to go back home—a mistake that will come back to haunt the young lovers.
When Anna’s barred from the US at the LA airport, the couple are left with nothing but e-mails, texts and phone calls to continue the bond, and the distance tests their commitment, even when Jacob takes a leave from his fledgling furniture-design business to visit her. When attempts to get Anna’s hold lifted fail, they slip still further away from one another, with Anna apparently seeing handsome neighbor Simon (Charlie Bewley) and Jacob supportive blonde Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence).
Still they’re unwilling to give up, and eventually marry in England in hopes that will resolve the legal problem. When it doesn’t, however, they seem on the verge of total breakup, each going back to their more available local suitors, until the immigration issue is resolved and Anna can return to California. But even as they’re reunited, it’s clear that after the pain each has inflicted on the other, their relationship will never be the same; and one can only speculate what the future holds for them.
Doremus tells this simple story with assurance, juxtaposing brisk montages with longer dramatic sequences effortlessly. The technique is hardly new, but it’s employed very ably here, for which the director should share responsibility with cinematographer John Guleserian, whose largely hand-held work seems right in this case, and editor Jonathan Alberts, who stitches together the varied episodes smoothly. And the music score by Dustin O’Halloran adds to the mood without calling attention to itself.
But a film like this wouldn’t work without leads that make you believe in the characters. Jones and Yelchin do, credibly registering an enormous range of emotion, from shy puppy-dog affection to passionate lovemaking, confused resignation and mean-spirited anger as their relationship waxes and wanes Lawrence shines in her smaller role, etching in brief strokes a girl deeply wounded by the on-and-off attention of the guy she loves, and Bewley has a meaty scene near the close when he proposes to Anna. Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead enjoy their few but juicy moments as Anna’s parents, a voluble pair with a special love of fine whiskey. (One wonders why Jacob’s mother—his only surviving parent—never makes an appearance, but that’s a minor point.)
“Like Crazy” makes a fine companion piece to “Blue Valentine,” another keenly observed, deeply felt portrait of a roller-coaster romance. The characters in this case are, to be sure, from a different socio-economic class, and the outcome for them is more positive—perhaps. But the effect is equally compelling.