The Work of Love: SFF Journal, Entry Thirteen
Published on November 14th, 2011 | by Charles H. Meyer2
“Like Crazy” (Drake Doremus, 2011) was screened at 7 P.M. on Saturday, November 5 at S.C.A.D.’s Trustees Theater as part of the 2011 Savannah Film Festival and is currently showing in New York City at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 and AMC Empire 25.
How is it possible that it has taken until now, with the release of Drake Doremus’s “Like Crazy,” for the cinema to produce a truly genuine love story about college romance? I don’t mean “hooking up.” I’m talking about those relationships that begin in college and continue on, sometimes for a lifetime, but that inevitably entail a lot of growing up, some of it painful. Although I would hesitate to call “Like Crazy” a “date” movie, as it doesn’t idealize young love, I would call it a “mature relationship” movie because while it perfectly captures the extended-honeymoon-like magic of falling precipitously in love and wanting nothing but to spend every waking minute with one’s beloved, it also deals with love’s more difficult part, the one that ultimately allows it to endure: the work of love, the care that must be taken and the tender, compassionate relationship maintenance that becomes necessary after the honeymoon ends and life together proper begins. Couples who have been together for six years or more know what I mean.
But I’m making “Like Crazy” sound like a drag, and it really isn’t. What makes it work is the convincingly real chemistry, phenomenal acting talent and smart beauty of its stars, Felicity Jones and Aaron Yelchin, who play Anna and Jacob, a British girl and an American boy who meet during their senior year at an unnamed university in Los Angeles. Anna’s visa will run out once she graduates, forcing her to return for at least three months to the U.K. But at the last minute she decides to violate her visa by staying in L.A. so that she and Jacob can spend the summer together, a duration captured sweetly and romantically by a jump-cut montage of over-the-bed shots of the couple sleeping in morning after morning, their sleeping positions and clothing changing from shot to shot to mark the steady passage of days.
Having assumed that her visa violation would simply go unnoticed, Anna is shocked a few months later to be summarily deported when she tries to reenter the United States following a brief trip home to the U.K. Thus begins the stressful series of trials that put the resiliency of Anna and Jacob’s passionate but fragile and tender relationship continually to the test. They will face the strains placed on their couplehood by distance, infidelity, inefficient government agencies, and the attractions of career-advancing employment opportunities. What makes the movie feel real is that Jacob and Anna face all of their difficulties the way real people do. They love each other dearly, bravely and nobly, but also a little immaturely. It is to the extent that they have faith in each other, and that we have faith in them as characters, that all parties involved can imagine that Anna and Jacob’s love will survive, grow and ultimately even thrive. The ending is, to me, a happy one, but it is anything but simple and nothing like a fairy tale. On the contrary, its subtlety, complexity and ambiguity elevate it to the level of art.
“Like Crazy” is grounded in the recent past (it opens with Anna giving a report on MySpace) and the present, but I don’t think that it will date. The film’s theme of love is, of course, timeless, and it wears its particulars of fashion and technology only very casually and incidentally. It’s simply unavoidable that in conducting their long-distance romance, Anna and Jacob, being a pair of hip, urban-dwelling, upwardly mobile young westerners working in magazine publishing and high-end furniture design, respectively, are going to text each other on their iPhones. (Don’t kid yourself, BlackBerry and Android.) Soon, of course, those iPhones will look laughably primitive, but this movie will endure due to the great care and artistry taken by its makers in crafting such an intelligent love story.
Formally, “Like Crazy” is especially beautiful in two important respects. Firstly, cinematographer John Gulesarian uses light in a way that makes the film’s atmosphere exude the warmth of Anna and Jacob’s often tenuous, but ultimately secure bond. Secondly, the simple piano score by composer Dustin O’Halloran provides perfect, intimate accompaniment to the couple’s growing, changing relationship. It is never intrusive and always appropriate, yet it is at the same time noticeably lovely.
Although very different films, Drake Doremus’s “Like Crazy” is similar in two intriguing ways to French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Goodbye First Love” (which I reviewed last month in Part 2 of Cinespect’s NYFF coverage): both directors are in their late 20s, and their youthfulness undoubtedly aided their realizations of films that feel so fresh and in touch with their subject matter, young love; and in both films a character’s profession resonates with symbolism. In Hansen-Løve’s film, Camille (Lola Créton) is an architect, a designer of immeubles (French for “buildings”), and she essentially stays immobile while her lover, Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), moves about freely. In Doremus’s film, Jacob is a designer of furniture (or, in French, meubles), and is bound by place, somewhat ironically given the mobility of the objects he creates, a mobility emphasized when he arrives in London for a visit to Anna just ahead of the writing chair–a present he made for her in L.A. during their summer together–that he has mailed to her. In both films, the symbolism of these professions isn’t heavy-handed or clichéd, but delicate and richly invested with meaning. I hesitate to even call it symbolism, adhering as I do to Susan Sontag’s dictum, “In place of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of art.” In fact, it has been my intention in this response to Drake Doremus’s “Like Crazy,” the most romantic film that I have seen so far this year, to avoid a hermeneutic approach as much as possible and instead to get at what is true and good about this film, to present it as an object to be admired and even contemplated, but not interpreted.