The note expatriate British student Anna (Felicity Jones) places under the windshield wiper of the car belonging to her university classmate Jacob (Anton Yelchin) is handwritten, quotes E.E. Cummings’ poetry, and ends with a reminder: 'Please don’t think that I’m a nutcase". He doesn’t, and despite an awkward first meeting over coffee – 'no nutcases here," she reminds him, 'these cups are huge," he says by way of small talk – they are clearly smitten with each other. But even as they’re falling deeper into a self-contained world for two, young bodies entangled and insular modes of communication, they slowly moving towards the times when they will appear to each other to be nutcases or something sadly similar.
Love, in this charming and genuinely felt independent romantic drama, is both a triumph and a curse. As shaped by American director Drake Doremus, to love somebody is a kind of magical risk; both wonder and woe waits. Using the bookends provided by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in 1994 and hardy sequel Before Sunset a decade later, the movie depicts a relationship evolving across multiple years. The passing of time is obliquely handled, with a new man in Anna’s London kitchen at one point signifying Jacob’s departure and the passing of months or even a year, but the absence of chronology represents how time doesn’t matter when the protagonists aren’t together.
Here young love isn’t scored with pop hits but tempered classical piano movements, and the film – written by Doremus and Ben York Jones – is marked by tellingly little displays of technique. At the beginning Doremus waits until a crucial moment to put the 20-something couple in the same shot, while a subsequent promise to spend the summer in bed together is marked by a roll call of daily stills showing just that. These bursts of invention felt endearing, and in synch with how Jacob and Anna relate to each other, but their need to be together is also their downfall because when she overstays her student visit, Anna is barred from returning to the United States.
Like Crazy tests the mettle of their devotion, putting oceans between the pair while subtly suggesting that if they’re so unworldly as to think that US Immigration services won’t be annoyed, then perhaps they’re also fooling themselves about the depth of their feelings. None of this is new to the movies, but Doremus keeps the focus so tight on the bond between Jacob and Anna (even when they’re with other people, such as Jacob’s subsequent girlfriend in Los Angeles, Jennifer Lawrence’s Sam) that the intuitive depth of the performances holds the picture aloft. Yelchin, a boyish Russian accent in Star Trek, does well, but Felicity Jones is a revelation. Her nervous glances and ebullient smiles are the stuff of which close-ups are made, and she finds the anguish in their difficult separations. 'It’s always there," Anna tells Jacob in one tearful phone call, and Jones makes you understand why they keep trying to surmount the obstacles between them even as each failure wears a degree of that initial attraction away. The question by the end of this worthy release is not whether they will live happily after, but if that storybook possibility is even a possibility.
Watch 'Like Crazy'
Tuesday 26 May, 7:50pm on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Drake Doremus
Starring: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Alex Kingston, Charlie Bewley
What's it about?
When a British college student (Jones) falls for her American classmate (Yelchin) they embark on a passionate and life-changing journey only to be separated when she violates the terms of her visa. The couple then faces the real challenge of being together and being apart at the same time.