I don’t know anything about Drake Doremus, the co-writer and director of the new movie “Like Crazy,” but based on this film I have to assume he has some first-hand knowledge of long-distance relationships. That’s because I have some first-hand knowledge of long-distance relationships and I can tell you that for the most part this movie’s portrait of one is dead-on. This movie is so good and so true it’s almost too painful to watch. We fall in love with its characters as they fall in love with each other, and then we have to sit there helplessly as they suffer. This thing is like a romantic drama for torture porn fans.
Its victims are two charming and beautiful young people, an American named Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and a Brit named Anna (Felicity Jones). They meet in a class at a college somewhere in Los Angeles; he’s studying to be a furniture designer, she wants to be a journalist. In a flash, Jacob and Anna are inseparable, but school’s almost over, which means Anna’s visa is going to expire. The night before she’s supposed to leave, the couple exchange gifts: she gives him a handmade book about their relationship, he gives her a bracelet engraved with the word “patience.” Anna should have listened to her jewelry; instead, she impulsively violates her visa and spends the summer with Jacob. But when she has to return to England for a wedding, the Department of Homeland Security won’t let her back into the U.S. Now she’s stuck across the pond and these two sweet, innocent people who want nothing more than to be together are separated by thousands of miles and one effed-up bureaucracy.
This part of the film, where Jacob and Anna reluctantly adjust to life apart, particularly struck me with its attention to lived-in detail: the passion of first kisses after a long journey, the awkward silences after someone accidentally brings up the untenable nature of the relationship, and the way a visiting lover becomes the odd man or woman out in awkward social situations. Eventually, Jacob and Anna’s story diverges from my own (thank God), but even with less to relate to on a personal level, I never lost my personal investment in the characters. Credit Yelchin and Jones for their effortless chemistry, which shines through even when they’re acting with an ocean between them.
Credit too to Doremus, for making a love story that is somehow heart-warming and brutally unsentimental all at once. He conveys an awful lot of information in this movie with very little dialogue, and he gets that young love is all about nonverbal communication, something that’s translated directly to the style of the film. Notice the way the passage of time is marked not by title cards but by the evolution of the couple’s cell phones, from old school flip models to modern iPhones. Doremus’ visual and editorial choices are sometimes flashy but they’re always informative. Anna and Jacob’s post-college summer zooms by in a peppy montage of still photographs, the perfect way to convey how the best of times seem to slip away quicker than the rest.
“Like Crazy” won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. Good acting, good filmmaking, plus something elusive that most Sundance movies about romance lack: sincerity. Doremus doesn’t couch his love story in ironic detachment or hipster quirk, nor does he burden it with contrived villains or subplots. Anyone who’s been in a long-distance relationship can tell you that was the right decision; long-distance relationships are dramatic enough on their own without that stuff.