Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Like Crazy (2011) – Review

Review: Like Crazy is beautiful and tragic, almost at the same time. The romance story follows Jacob and Anna, two college students who fall in love – the problem is that Anna is in the States on a school visa, and she overstays it to be with Jacob. Thus, when she goes home to England to visit her parents and attend a family wedding, she is unable to return to the States and be with Jacob, setting up the struggles of maintaining a long-distance relationship. Writer-director Drake Doremus seems to be most interested in each character’s internal struggle between their commitment to each other, which is difficult as they are separated by about 5,400 miles and due to this distance each develops their own life where they are, making it all the more challenging to stay committed. Doremus takes such a naturalistic and organic approach to the story, which is very refreshing (given the current cinematic climate of boring structurally cliché romances), with his aesthetic style (using natural light and freehand camera work) and mostly improvised dialog (allowing the actors to play off each other in the moment). This approach is very appealing and ultimately leaves the film feeling a cut above most in its genre as the viewer does not know where the story or characters are headed (unlike almost every other romance or rom-com to come out recently). It does not seem to have a conventional three-act structure either (and while one can be argued, it does not work in the same way as most films). The emotional journey of Jacob and Anna does not follow the high-low-high formula; it plays much more organically with highs and lows of varying degrees happening much in the same way they would happen if this were a real relationship, and not something completely phony (aka, essentially every rom-com and most romances). And the characters themselves feel more real than what the genre typically gives us. Neither one is right or wrong, rather both are right and both are wrong. In the vein of The Graduate, the ending is ambiguous (something critics, cinema and indie fans seem to like and cheap-entertainment seeking movie-goers hate), but it works very well given the structure and characters. Basically, the whole film has been building to the last scene(s), the characters facing many obstacles and triumphs and here they are where they wanted to be and now what. Doremus handles the last moments extremely well, as Anna and Jacob face the future and present which seems a bit on the murky side, but they look to the past specifically why they love each other, but again we are left to make our own conclusions. I also think that the film and Doremus play with the idea of soul-mate versus obligation (or commitment). Do Anna and Jacob fight so hard and give up so much because they really do love each other (and are soul-mates) or do they feel a socially dictated obligation to each other, growing up in a society that still puts pressure on things like family, commitment and so on as moral goals (and norms)? Like Crazy is a good film because it does not placate or sell itself out to typical genre beats; rather it respects the idea of love and delves into the joys and struggles of what being in a relationship is really about. As viewers, we can all relate because it is so honest.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Drake Doremus has written and directed three other features, but Like Crazy is the first to receive any form of real commercial distribution (thanks to winning Sundance and having marketable cast names), thus it in a way can be treated as his first feature (at least in a commercial sense). That said, it is a great first film. His approach to the genre is really what stands out and makes the film as endearing as it is (even though I would not call it a feel-good movie). Like many directors that have put out great films, early in their potential careers, this year, I look forward to seeing what he does next. Composer Dustin O’Halloran’s score (his first in a distributed film) is perfect for the tone and style of the film. It also goes hand-in-hand with the good found music, but is not overshadowed by it (here is an excerpt). It hits the right emotional notes to accompany the performances. John Guleserian’s cinematography is beautiful. He utilizes natural light wonderfully, but what really stood out was his use of color, which also goes with the work of production designer Katie Byron who presents the film in such a real space but also has an eye for striking color. (While I honestly do not remember completely if this is the case, I think) the color in the falling in love scenes is so vibrant that when things start to become more of a struggle, there is an almost shocking lapse in color. It is very good work. The film’s narrative is really centered on two characters, with all supporting roles mostly reduced to space-holders. However, Charlie Bewley and Jennifer Lawrence are good in their small roles. Oliver Muirhead is probably the standout in the supporting cast as he sort of steals most of his scenes. Anton Yelchin is very good as Jacob, as he weighs the emotional decisions on his face. Felicity Jones is wonderful as well. She brings so much life the character and film that it is difficult to see some of her light dampened through the narrative. Both give so much with their faces that really the film could have played without dialog.

Summary & score: Like Crazy is a touching romance (both sad and happy) that rejuvenates the genre. 8/10 

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