If fly-on-the-wall British director Mike Leigh decided to make a mumblecore film, it might look very much like Like Crazy, an ebb-and-flow love story where the blockages to romance are not Shakespearean feuding families but visa issues. Not since Green Card has so much romance been yoked to the ox cart of bureaucracy.
British journalism major Anna (Felicity Jones) has a visa to study in Los Angeles, where she meets a boy who in many ways feels like her male equivalent: artistic, creative Jacob (Anton Yelchin). An aspiring furniture designer, Jacob's first gesture of true devotion is to engrave one of his chairs with the words "Like Crazy" and present it to Anna for her seating pleasure. A surprisingly sensitive male character in a Gen-Y cinema awash with duuuudes, Jacob is a candy-coated dreamboat from girl-bait central casting. He clutches a bouquet of flowers for airport rendezvous, treats women with Old World tenderness, and can make goo-goo eyes like nobody's business.
But director Drake Doremus is no lightweight. He invests Jacob with a complicated back story, and Anna has a pair of hard-drinking, wacky parents who recall the grown-up bohos of Mike Leigh-land. In other words, these are interesting people with inner lives. Doremus takes his time developing their personalities too, rather than focusing on fluid-filled sex scenes that so often serve as short-cut indications of great passion for less insightful directors. And to his credit, Like Crazy is a love story told from the heart that melts like cotton candy on your tongue.
Anna and Jacob naturally fall in love, but when Anna overstays her visa, there is hell to pay. The pair begin an on-again-off-again long-distance romance, with Anna nurturing a fledging career as a magazine journalist in London and Jacob manufacturing his Dwell-ready chairs from a cool, cavernous L.A. loft. Jacob doesn't want to abandon his business for a new life in England, and Anna can't return to America without Homeland Security getting all up in her business. Other romantic entanglements ensue, but you sense Anna and Jacob will somehow find a way out of their paperwork typhoon. Still, Doremus and co-screenwriter Ben York Jones have a few surprises in store.
As sweet and light as the cappuccino froth your favorite barista marks with a heart, Like Crazy takes its cue from young love itself; it's intense, grandiose, and end-of-the-world feeling at every turn. With its spastic, hand-held camera, the feel of the film is giddy and breathless too, conveying love that is a little ridiculous and occasionally irritating to all those who behold it. You don't exactly want to prick Like Crazy's love balloon, but at times all of the hand-wringing urgency can feel as belabored as blogosphere commentary on Jennifer Aniston's love life.
The film derives a significant gob of charm from its two cherubic leads, both physically slight, sensitive romantic types who seem stamped from the boy-girl molds in true love's confectionery shop. They are each peculiar beauties, Anna with her adorable buck teeth and Jacob with his mop-top receding hairline. Yelchin's Russian heritage gives him a dose of emotional heft, and something exotic too, in a sea of young buck lightweights. And he's well matched to the ethereally pretty, slightly goofy, and self-effacing Jones. The casting is nearly perfect and the couple shows genuine chemistry. Other people seem mostly insignificant, save Anna's screwball parents, who inquire about whether Anna is using "protection" during their first dinner with Jacob and bond over giddy whiskey tastings. Doremus keeps his focus tight, zeroing in on just a few characters. It's not a bad strategy for conveying the intensity of a relationship where the rest of the world tends to fade into the background.
Like Crazy is admirable for its simplicity and its determination to capture the small gestures of a relationship: fits of jealousy, petty disagreements, a sideways look before sneaking a glimpse at a suspicious text message, and the melty, slo-motion narcotic of bathing in the company of someone who makes time stand still. There are no epic events, just officious immigration service bureaucrats and the occasional cheating. But both Anna and Jacob are ultimately pure of heart and virtuous, and while it lasts, Like Crazy is a sugar high immersion in what it feels like to be crazy in love.