The Waiting is the Hardest Part, by Scott Nye
When stacked against the tidal onslaught of young-people-falling-in-love indie movies, one cannot help but respect the considerable ambition behind Drake Doremus’ fourth feature, Like Crazy. Taking place over…let’s say four years (to say the timeline is indistinct would make it sound like a choice), Like Crazy aims to convey the considerable toll time, distance, and career can take on a young relationship. When we meet them, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) are in their final year of college. They fall in love almost instantly, and, like all young romance worth a damn, without much immediate regard for their future. So when Anna, a British citizen, decides to overstay her visa to spend the following summer with Jacob, the very prospect they were trying to avoid (spending the summer apart) becomes their whole lives – she’s deported back to London, and he…starts to make excuses. And things get a good deal more complex from there. Anyway, it’s ambitious, all right, for a film of its size, but with ambition comes responsibility, and that’s where things fall apart.
The issues the film confronts vary wildly, as life often will, but the film is ultimately crushed under that weight. Representing the passage of time is one of the most difficult challenges of any narrative art form. It’s not simply a matter of communicating to the audience the fact of how much time has passed, but more so imbuing us with the feeling of that time passing. It’s not impossible to do in a short running time (Like Crazy runs only 90 minutes) but that constraint does make it significantly more difficult. We simply never get that gut feeling that the events of the film have consumed a long portion of Jacob and Anna’s rather young lives.
Worse, we never feel the importance of their relationship, or of anything, because Doremus isn’t willing to take this thing all the way, or indeed through any significant exchange. Any time the threat of real, honest confrontation, good or bad, looms too great, you can be sure the scene is about to end; before long, we feel lucky to get even that. Fifteen minutes into the film, Jacob and Anna have been together a year and are deeply in love and terrified at the prospect of spending two and a half months apart. But since we’ve only had a first date and a montage getting to know these people as a couple, we have no investment, and what is an embarrassingly familiar emotion (the feeling that you can’t live without another person for longer than a few days) starts to look a little silly.
And so onward it continues, evermore frustrating for the promise and potential on which it fails to follow through. Yelchin and particularly Jones give wonderful, heartfelt performances, but they’re edited down to fragments of larger, more interesting scenes. Doremus creates some absolutely beautiful, evocative moments that make you swell with joy or leave you sorely devastated, but those in and of themselves are not enough. They feel so contained, devoid of a strong editorial voice to shape them into a whole. When you’re dealing with a relationship between two people over four years, you can’t keep turning away from the big moments. We never see one of the several times Jacob and Anna break up, and are only given the slightest indication of where their relationship stands as we try to play catch-up after many months have passed without notice. It can be an interesting dramatic device to fade past some big moments (and there are some here that are done expertly), but you can’t do it every single time things threaten to get messy. Before long, it stops being retrained, and becomes cowardly. Jacob and Anna are, from the outside looking in, going to insane lengths to stay together, but we never really see why. We long for time with these people, so we might actually get to know them, to feel the larger effects of this period in their lives instead of simply watching them make reference to it.
It’s also important because, honestly, I don’t know what Anna sees in Jacob. He’s perfectly charming at the beginning (aren’t they all, ladies?), but the dude has no follow-through. When she’s banned from re-entering the United States, it might be worth talking about how maybe he should move to London. Late in the film, Anna alludes to previous conversations about that subject, but he shrugs off her attempt to revisit the subject. She’s all set to abandon her kick-ass editorial position at a London magazine, but God forbid he should try to design furniture someplace else.
I don’t have a problem with unlikable characters, but it’d be nice to get some insight into this. Is he afraid of making such monumental change? Does he just not want to totally abandon his back-up girlfriend, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence)? Maybe it’s the weather. I have no idea, because the one time the prospect of him moving is discussed, we get a “sure, it’d be hard, but I dunno, maybe.” We don’t even need a heated conversation, but there are other ways (i.e. the cinema) of communicating his thoughts on the subject. By the final shot (which, I’ll admit, is a doozy), my impression of Anna is that she’s kind of a mixed-up kid who is genuinely trying to do right by the various people who are closest to her, but makes some pretty major mistakes as a result. My impression of Jacob is that he’s kind of a sociopath – he has no regard for how his actions affect others, is interested only in what most satisfies him, and is immediately fed up when life doesn’t meet him there.
In its own way, Like Crazy has a lot to say about our generation – its pettiness and entitlement, the culture of instant gratification. As they’re facing the initially-proposed two-and-a-half month summer separation, Jacob gives Anna a bracelet that has “patience” engraved on it, but neither display much in the way of it. Or if they do, Doremus doesn’t, and we never feel the weight of their responsibility or commitment, but are asked for it to resonate with us at the end. We’re often catching up with their lives rather than following them in the present, and this is a movie all capturing a brief feeling. There is a way to do this kind of storytelling, the type defined by glimpsed moments rather than big scenes, and I’d advise anyone who hasn’t to watch Days of Heaven to see how it’s done. There’s a lot worth admiring about Like Crazy, starting with its ambition and ending with the moments it really, truly nails. But there’s too much unsaid, unexplored, glossed over, and simply ignored for it to all come together in some form beyond a reflection of our own experiences in similar terrain. Sure, we’ve all been there, but at a certain point we have to ask for a cinema that does more than simply convey common experiences. Like Crazy is the product of a culture that prizes “relatability” above all else.