Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 11, 2011 8:39 pm 
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ANTON YELCHIN AND FELICITY JONES IN LIKE CRAZY

Love and mistakes and the INS

This is a love story complicated and enabled by visa problems. Its charm lies above all in the excellent chemistry of the two young actors, Anton Yelchin (American, Russian-born) and Felicity Jones (English), who are cute and sweet and improvise beautifully together. Its originality is in its condensed storytelling and its avoidance of the cliché love story moments, the meet-cute, the first kiss, the cozy first date dialogue, the sex. It goes over familiar ground touchingly, without its seeming too familiar. It is remarkably economical, skipping the sex, cutting to the chase, two lovers with different passports who get separated by the INS, telling a story that covers a number of years in under ninety minutes. But the economy also means a certain thinness of content. Neither Jacob (Yelchin) nor Anna (Jones) is explored in depth. Nor is their relationship or its future prospects examined in much detail. This isn't Jane Austin. I was fascinated by the technique; I admired the acting. I was not quite clear on how many years were passing, and I wondered why Jacob seemed to have no family at all and we kept seeing Anna's.

Not to reveal too much, it goes like this. Jacob and Anna make eyes at each other in an LA college class. She's a budding writer and poet and a foreign student with a cute accent; he's a mumbly local boy with adorable dimples majoring in furniture design. She woos him by leaving a note on his car. They have a quiet date. The chemistry kicks in. They both love Paul Simon, and that clinches it. She's on a student visa from the UK. When summer comes she has to leave, but she can't bear it and violates her visa. When she comes back to the US a few months later, she is stopped at customs and sent back home. She can't come back, even as a tourist.

Maybe the most touching moments are the sporadic communications that follow. They seem to talk only occasionally on the phone. They have decided their situation is too complicated and they should focus on their work and maybe, "see other people" -- though they later can't talk about that without ill feeling. In fact, Jacob sees Sam (Jennifer Lawrence, of Winter's Bone, who is very touching, but deserves more of a role) and Anna sees Simon (Charlie Bewley), a sexy, wholly admiring, but not very interesting young Englishman. In certain awkward, desperate moments, they call each other, and finally Anna begs Jacob to come to England at once.

He has already met her amusing parents, Alex Kingston, beloved from Doctor Who, and Oliver Muirhead (very busy in TV, and also a writer). Her father seems obsessed with fine whiskey. In its economy and haste, the movie focuses on one characteristic. Jacob makes chairs. The one he makes and has sent to Anna in England becomes the symbol of their love. Anna writes, and over years, goes from blogger for a magazine to its assistant editor. The English parents focus on whiskey. Jacob must learn to drink it and learn about single malts like Laphroaig. In retrospect (and retrospect comes fast in the telescoped chronology of the editing) both Jacob and Anna seem cruel and selfish in allowing Sam and Simon to fall so much in love with them, when they're so obviously hung up on each other.

Are they simply hung up, unable to get quit of each other because for years they keep trying to get together in the same country? He won't move to London, though he considers it. He can be forgiven, since his furniture design business has quickly taken off in LA, but not spectacularly enough to be instantly transferable to another country. She was stupid and selfish in violating her visa in the first place. Finally they marry in England, but that doesn't work the expected magic, because there's a ban on a US marriage visa due to the student violation, and it takes years of legal wrangling to get Anna legally back in LA.

We don't know if this is a great love, or simply a long distance relationship that survives past its expiry date due to lack of prolonged contact. Is Anna really going to be content with a shitty job in LA when she was a rising editor in London?

The film gets too cute at times, especially with a collage of shots to show the couple spent a lot of time in bed together during that summer when Anna outran her visa limit. There is a little too much parallelism, job to job, lover to lover, USA to UK, back and forth AB, BA, AB. As happens with improvisation, the cross moments seem exaggerated. But there are other moments, like when Jacob reaches over and fingers Anna's necklace, that are so natural, intimate, and uncalculated that in them the relationship suddenly becomes achingly real; the camera often stays fixed on Anna's face, and its changes too are instantly touching and authentic-feeling. Felicity Jones seems set to become a star -- but we thought that about Jennifer Lawrence, and all she's got is this pinched secondary role. Yelchin is still baby-faced, but this is a relatively grownup role at last. His previous starring part was as a high school boy in Charlie Bartlett, three years ago. We love them both, but we don't quite like them and don't know enough about them. Drake Doremus has graduated from the mumblecore sloppiness of his 2010 Douchebag. Has he grown up now, or is he of those who don't? The narrative compression is impressive here, and the actors' charm offsets the skimpiness of their characters. One likes what Doremus has done, but wishes for more.

There is an almost snapshot quality to the photography at times that seems curiously original, and elegant, perhaps too much so, since a Variety reviewer accuses the filmmakers of a "fashion-promo aesthetic." Lots of songs help promote a very young feel. The skeletal screenplay (a basis for much improvisation) is by Doremus and Ben York Jones. Like Crazy debuted at Sundance in January 2011, where it won two prizes, a Grand Jury prize for the film and another for Jones's acting; other festival screenings followed. US limited release began October 28; UK, February 3, 2012.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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