Perhaps a better title for Like Crazy, the Sundance favorite from debut director Drake Doremus, would have been Crazy, Stupid Love, with an extra emphasis on the ‘stupid’ part. Despite Doremus’ earnest efforts as co-writer and director, and the generally solid work from his cast, there’s something rotten at the core of how he treats his characters. What starts as an attempt at an honest and heartfelt examination of young love tested by separation gradually devolves into a classic case of characters being allowed to do whatever they want, as the audience is expected to feel that it’s justified.
After a quick meet-cute between T. A. Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and student Anna (Felicity Jones) in class, the pair very quickly fall head-over-heels for each other. Things are going along just fine, until Anna makes the decision to overstay her student visa for the summer (as opposed to returning to England for two months so it can be renewed). And it's at this very moment when Like Crazy starts its downward spiral. To summarize, this very simple, very stupid decision turns the couple's period of separation from one or two months to one of several years.
Yet Doremus insists on treating his characters as incapable of ever being guilty of anything more than minor transgressions. One could find plausible reasons for Anna’s forsaking of the imposing Stuart, but Jacob’s treatment of his temporary girlfriend (Jennifer Lawrence) is abysmal. That the pair’s love is supposed to be worth all of this only makes the viewing experience more unpleasant. Only in the film’s final scene does Doremus give some hint that Jacob and Anna have changed too much to be compatible once more, but it’s an ambiguous conclusion, and not an effective one at all. Doremus falls into the classic trap of making the film entirely about the central duo’s relationship, meaning that every misstep hurts the film more than it would were there a minimally larger plot.
It’s a shame, because some the performers are trying. Jones and Lawrence are especially effective, the former because she sells her character despite some of things she does, and the latter earns sympathy despite limited screentime. However, it’s probably not a good thing when you have more sympathy for a character with less than 15 minutes of screen time than one of the leads. Which brings us to Mr. Yelchin. Having given a strong performance earlier this year in The Beaver (which also featured Lawrence as a love interest for him), Yelchin disappoints here. Doremus doesn’t make him an interesting figure whatsoever. He’s simply there, little more than a sounding board for Anna’s problems, problems which she brought upon herself. In the end, it’s all not worth caring about. Those who have recently been in a passionate relationship may find something powerful in Doremus’ depiction of troubled love. The rest of us, however, will likely be left indifferent at how the director uses the film to make the statement that when you meet your soul mate, you can get away with almost anything in the name of love.