During their first date, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) asks Anna (Felicity Jones) to read him a piece of her writing. They’re lying on her bed, the framing tight to their faces, as she admits she’s never read her work to anyone. She pauses then begins, her words about intimacy, about looking back at a lost love, not with regret but with truth. We see his face, lit with admiration, after she reads, “The gory bits of you and the gory bits of me.” She stops to watch him watching her, then finishes.
Before their first separation — Anna returning home to London, Jacob remaining in Los Angeles — she gives him a notebook filled with poems and sketches and stories about them, notes hidden in envelopes glued to pages, and an inscription that reads, “To you who made me see things I could never see alone.” Like Crazy is that notebook, in cinematic form. It’s the small subtleties, the stolen moments in relationships strung together. But it also reads between the lines, exposing the gory bits.
Jacob and Anna meet while studying at the same school in Los Angeles — he’s a furniture design major, and she aspires to be a journalist. Their relationship is chronicled from the very beginning: Anna leaving a letter on Jacob’s car professing her feelings, with a disclaimer at the bottom begging, in all caps, “PLEASE DON’T THINK I’M A NUTCASE!” They’re adorable together on their first date, laughing nervously, making silly jokes, clearly charged with chemistry. They’re both only children, they love Paul Simon, they scribble their feelings about each other on a notepad and pass it back and forth, giggling.
Their eventual romance is captured with a deft eye by director Drake Doremus in washed-out giddy light, intimately close shots and framing that measures their (at times) unsteady emotions in negative space. Their story unfolds naturally and with familiarity. Once school is out and the two are forced to separate for the summer (Anna’s work visa is about to expire), we brace ourselves for the inevitable heartbreak. We’ve been here before, we’re about to hurt right along with them. And we want it.
Strangely, Anna makes a rash decision the day she’s set to depart: She chooses to stay for the summer, allowing her visa to expire. Inevitably, after returning to London for a wedding, she’s barred from re-entering the United States. And this is when the invisible ink between the lines reveals itself.
Again, Doremus paints a picture of their shared longing and loneliness in wonderful form, with short fades to black between their respective whereabouts until the distance between them becomes palpable. The two inevitably end up seeing other people — Jacob, the lovely Sam (Jennifer Lawrence), and Anna, her dashing neighbor Simon (Charlie Bewley). But they remain drawn to each other. Doremus displays his esteem for what the two share in countless ways, the most clear being that while we see them making love to their respective partners, we never once witness Anna and Jacob in the act. Their story, of course, cannot end there, and it doesn’t.
I really admire a film like this, one that remains simple and straightforward, completely entrusting its emotional core to its actors. And Yelchin and Jones don’t disappoint. It’s well known that Doremus gave them improvisational freedom, and much of what you see on screen is natural banter between them. They’re radiant young things, brimming with the double-edged sword that is naivete, both as actors and the characters they play. Even Lawrence, in her small role, shines magnificently.
When I first watched the trailer for Like Crazy, I thought it looked like Blue Valentine‘s younger, gentler cousin. I walked in expecting emotional devastation, some kind of catharsis reached by witnessing pain. I brought tissues. But, like Anna’s first reading, the narrative doesn’t seek to break down, but to break in. Like Crazy does just that — it lodges into you.
Like Crazy opens in theaters today.