TROUBLE CITY

Like Crazy

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*heavy sigh* Once again, the time has come for me to plug my ears, bury my head in the sand, and pretend that Twilight isn't happening. My only comfort is the knowledge that after today, there will only be one more movie in this franchise for me to ignore as best as I can (until The Host is released, anyway). For this weekend, however, I went to ask my little sister if she would be willing to watch and review Breaking Dawn, taking that particular bullet for me as she did last year. Her reply was a resolute "go fuck yourself" (I might be paraphrasing).

Of course, in spite of my anecdotal evidence that even Twilight fans are sick of the franchise by now, let's not kid ourselves. The movie will make hundreds of millions of dollars and continue to run well into the next month, whether we like it or not. Adding to the difficulty is that there aren't many alternatives, since the other studios were apparently smart enough to stay out of the tween fanbase's way (RIP, Happy Feet 2).

Fortunately, unlike most other moviegoers, I have an escape route ready. One of my local arthouses is playing a romance film that's being critically acclaimed as genuinely heartfelt, with characters who are actually worth a damn. And guess what? The male lead is played by a former vampire hunter.

So I went to see Like Crazy. And I came away going "Meh."

Our lovebirds for tonight are Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones). Roughly 30 seconds in, we see them meet cute during their college years and fall madly in love. The only problem is that he's a native to Los Angeles and she came over from the UK on a student visa. From here, the movie shows these characters going through all the difficulties of a young couple fallen in love at first sight, in addition to the problems inherent in a relationship separated by distance and by law.

The positive aspects of this film come back to the characters. For all this screenplay's failings (and believe me, we'll be getting to those), the characters in this film are all beautifully developed. Even the secondary characters have ambitions, passions, jobs, feelings, and quirks. There isn't an annoying or two-dimensional one in the bunch, and that's to be commended.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with the cast. Anton Yelchin is at the top of his game here, and Felicity Jones acquits herself beautifully. In the secondary cast are Jennifer Lawrence (here reuniting with her love interest from The Beaver) and Charlie Bewley, playing a couple of flings that our leads have in their respective home countries. Bewley gives a performance that's very strong and sympathetic, and of course Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned.

Individually, all of these actors are brilliant. Collectively, I'm sorry to say, the chemistry of our leads is subpar.

That isn't to say their chemistry is bad, it's just not nearly as strong as it needed to be. For this premise to work, those precious few moments the leads have together must be absolutely electrifying. The face-to-face exchanges have to be powered by scorching chemistry and dialogue that flies off the page, or their torment at being apart doesn't work nearly as well. This brings me to the screenplay problems.

To start with, it's clear that the filmmakers tried to make these characters as realistic as possible. That's certainly a good idea in theory, and a goal that the actors and filmmakers mostly succeed with. In practice, however, it isn't enough to simply show real-life problems as cinema verite without taking any steps toward making it entertaining. As it is, this movie features dialogue that couldn't have sounded any less inspired if the actors had improvised the whole script.

Getting back to an earlier point, it's that much harder for the lead actors to show any chemistry when all the great moments of passion are omitted. Seriously, this film never takes the time to show us what this relationship is like when it's firing on all cylinders. Instead, it shows these moments in bits and flashes through umpteen montages. The end result is a movie that focuses far less on the 90% of the relationship that's full of happiness and romance, and focuses way too much on the 10% that's full of anguish and uncertainty. Hell, I don't even know if those percentages are accurate, that's how little I know about this couple when they're happy.

This is ultimately the movie's prime failing. Without enough moments of joy to balance it out, the stretches of sadness are meaningless and boring. This is a movie that seems extremely skeptical of its own "Love conquers all" message, especially given its downer anticlimax of an ambiguous ending.

Though to be fair, the montages are very nicely made, with some clever editing touches here and there. Yet any points I give for the visuals, I have to take right back for the hand-held camera. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a bit of hand-held camerawork, as it lends a sort of intimacy that's essential for films like this. The problem is that a little goes a long way, as proven here. The shaky-cam is so overdone that it shoots way past immersive and goes right back around to being obnoxious. Coupled with the overbearing piano score, this gives the impression that the filmmakers are trying to force a sentimentality that should be coming naturally.

Like Crazy is misguided. Writer/director Drake Doremus came up with a solid new idea for a love story, but he gets so caught up in the heartache and the socio-political issues that he skimps on the actual romance. With a decent screenwriter and a director who had any sense of subtlety or balance, this might have been a movie worthy of its characters and the actors playing them. As it is, the film is a well-meaning misfire.