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In Like Crazy, the Treacle Alert hits code-red status instantly. After a brief classroom scene at an L.A. college during which a student named Anna (Felicity Jones) reads from a poetically winning essay, we see her slide a note under a classmate’s windshield wiper—more of a manifesto, actually, taking up multiple pages and ending with her phone number and the entreaty, “Please don’t think I’m a nutcase.” The object of her affection, Jacob (Anton Yelchin), doesn’t, and in fact seems awestruck by the gesture.
Soon they’re inseparable. Writer-director Drake Doremus lets this play out in not the freshest of ways, with some having fun! montages (go-karts, frolicking on the beach) interspersed with lots of smooching, drinking, and ultimately the declaration that they love each other “like crazy,” a phrase wannabe-carpenter Jacob carves into a chair he makes for the furniture-deficient Anna.
So where does the film (co-written by Ben York Jones, who also has a small role) go from there? That’s what makes Like Crazy a bit different from your typical romance. Anna is British and in the U.S. on a student visa; when summer comes and her time in the States is up, she decides to ignore the deadline to stay with Jacob. Eventually she does return home with the intention of returning to L.A. as soon as possible. Her breach, however, disrupts those plans, and the bulk of the film is a wrenching demonstration of how red tape can strip the bloom off of red roses.
Gooeyness aside, Doremus believably captures the twinkle and inadvertent stupidity of young love. Although Yelchin, with his bug eyes and receding poodle hair, inspires a bit of is she really going out with him? disbelief, he and the painfully pretty Jones emit an undeniable warmth. (Expect the lass, primarily known in Britain, to continue shining in more stateside roles.) And when they fight, it feels even more authentic. You’ll wince at every awkward text exchange or heated battle that unexpectedly erupts in the middle of them trying, so hard, to have a good time. (Much of this realism comes thanks to improvised dialogue; both actors are charming, clever, and vulnerable, but just less than scriptedly so.)
The story, therefore, is ultimately about the granddaddy of long-distance relationships as Jacob and Anna try to hold on to their intimacy while way too often communicating across the pond. There are chilly periods, rekindlings of the flame, happy dalliances with others, and crushing loneliness and dissatisfaction with their temporary lives. The final scene is open-ended. But instead of being bugged by the question mark, you’ll be right with the characters, anxiously wondering where they’ll go next.