Some romantic films want you to feel good. They want to threaten heartbreak, but most leave you with a sense that everything is right with the world when two soul mates end up together. Drake Doremus's Like Crazy goes the other route, wanting you to feel the rush, the terror, the exhilaration, and the pain of love from its first flowering to the point when you don't know if it can live any longer.
Anna (Felicity Jones) is a Brit studying journalism at a California college. She shares a class with Jacob (Anton Yelchin), a cute design major specializing in furniture. She leaves him a note saying she wants to meet him, they discover they share a love for Paul Simon, and soon the two can't get enough of each other. Their attraction is so strong that Anna chooses to overstay her student visa, and then isn't allowed back into the U.S. after a quick trip home for a family event. Separated by an ocean, the two try to keep their passion alive with phone calls and infrequent visits, but each is tempted by people closer to them, and their little personality quirks that never mattered before grow more and more irritating.
It's easy to lay the credit for this wonderfully affecting film at the feet of the lead actors. Yelchin has a quietness about him that's rare for a leading man, especially one so young. He turns Jacob into a tongue-tied manboy whose brain can't keep up with his powerful emotions. His vulnerability is appealing, but when he gets angry, the quietness takes on a dismissive edge that's chilling. In her own way, Jones does the same thing by portraying the ambitious Anna as someone who tries to outthink her emotions before giving herself over to them completely. This dynamic plays out in a phone call between the two in which she convinces him to come to England for the first time. It's a scene full of little moments, as both try to pretend everything is all right and are unable to reveal the truth to each other.
The leads aren't the only actors doing excellent work here. Alex Kingston plays Anna's mom, a straightforward, almost embarrassingly honest woman who knows her daughter better than she knows herself, and Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Jacob's assistant and stateside squeeze while Anna is in Europe.
But for all the actors' skill, director and co-writer Drake Doremus deserves just as much adulation. He makes the savvy decision to keep these two lovebirds separated in very creative ways. For example, during their first date at a restaurant, Doremus never lets the two of them share the frame -- he uses a wall to keep one of them blocked at all times. It's a smart maneuver, because it gets us to think about these two people as individuals rather than as a couple. Right from the start we're forced to consider that maybe they shouldn't be together, and because of this there's genuine tension throughout Like Crazy -- there's no way to be sure they'll be able to make their relationship work, and occasionally we're not sure if we want them to. We root for them as people, and that might mean we should be hoping that they break up.