Romance has always been hard to nail down in film. Not to say that Hollywood doesn’t try, with what feels like a new Kate Hudson movie every week that inevitably climaxes with an inappropriately public proclamation of eternal love, but these romantic comedies are often more about momentary infatuation than something substantial. Realistic portrayals of nuanced, adult relationships are much harder to get right, and only a few films have managed to do so in recent memory. Thankfully, “Like Crazy” is one of those films.
Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are star-crossed lovers Jacob and Anna, a pair of college kids who fall in love just as Anna’s student visa is threatening to expire. When Anna bucks the system and decides to overstay her welcome in the States for a few more months with Jacob, the consequences put an ocean between the couple.
Long-distance relationships are rarely depicted on film, simply because it doesn’t make a ton of sense to make a love story where your romantic leads don’t share much screen time, but “Like Crazy” pulls it off spectacularly. The film manages to avoid, and even subtly mocks, many tropes of the romance genre, and director Drake Doremus’ natural, evocative direction takes small jabs at the audience as well. Doremus makes great use of emptiness in his frame, often keeping the characters separated by the camera even when they’re together, all the way until the gutting final shot.
Any romantic film depends on the chemistry between its leads, and it’s clear that Yelchin and Jones have it in spades from their very first scene together, a just slightly awkward first date in a coffee shop. Every scene with the two is a highlight, and even when their characters are apart, both young actors excel at showing the pain of an aching heart.
Jones in particular stands out in an absolutely knockout performance. Her Anna is all giggle and charm until it comes time for Jones to do some dramatic heavy lifting, and when she does, she effortlessly breaks your heart, especially in a teary late-night phone call to Jacob in the middle of the film. Jones is so good here that she almost makes Yelchin unlikable as their relationship starts to fray, and her performance here should get her some awards attention if there’s any justice in the world. However, Yelchin is strong, too, his big, alien-esque eyes portraying an uncertain pain and maturity that makes him relatable, even if his character’s actions don’t always rub you the right way.
The supporting cast barely registers thanks to the fireball intensity of the leads’ chemistry, but it’s always hard to ignore the understated Jennifer Lawrence, who brings a quiet, sad resignation to her role as Jacob’s off-and-on stateside girlfriend. Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead bring welcome comic relief as Anna’s parents, and their scenes over the course of the film are invariably among the film’s best.
“Like Crazy” is a film in which its biggest moments are played with the same small delicacy as its most disposable ones. It slowly becomes clear that as great as the characters are together, they’re also becoming increasingly trapped — first by the circumstances of their relationship and then by each other. It’s a bold move to make a romantic film where the central relationship is the veritable antagonist, and yet Doremus pulls it off with his strong direction and the help of his two fantastic leads. It’s this boldness and refusal to adhere to the confines of the romantic genre that make “Like Crazy” stand out, and it’s the great, irresistible chemistry between Yelchin and Jones that makes it one of the most purely affecting romantic films in years, and absolutely worth seeing.