PFF 2011: Boozie Movies bares its soul for LIKE CRAZY
(Like Crazy opened the 2011 Philadelphia Film Festival last night and while there is indeed a review of the film buried within this article, the prefix for the review is more of a personal rant in relation to the film as is par for the Boozie Movie review tradition. If you're interested solely in knowing whether Like Crazy is worth seeing, scrowl down.)
They sit in the car enveloped in a silence thick enough to cut with a knife. The 94 Pontiac's ratty heating system isn't powerful enough to keep up with the January cold of a Philadelphia winter. They shake and shiver while watching the snow fall around them. Her flight back home, over 3000 miles away, has been delayed for three hours, but they're already parked in the unloading zone at the airport.
There's nothing to say. She's already outstayed her visa and is going home to look for work after graduation. They already know that they'll never see each other again although they can't bring themselves to admit it. They wasted their last night together fighting over meaningless and irrelevant things.
He unloads her things and rushes her along before giving her an impersonal hug. He lies and says that he'll see her soon before watching her walk through the security check in.
He gets back into his car and lights his very first cigarette found from a pack left by a friend on the backseat. He savors the taste and adds a new vice to his life.
A few minutes later she comes running over to his car again, she's crying hysterically and pounding on the window. Before he can even get the door open she's thrown herself in, kissing him with a passion few people ever experience in the real world. It's like that moment at the end of every shitty romantic movie. But this isn't a shitty romantic movie and his lips are unresponsive. It's over. This final embrace is the relationship's swan song.
He pats her shoulder and nods his head before driving off, the motionless silhouette of her standing in the driveway remains in his rear view mirror until it fades to white amongst the snow. This moment has already become nothing more than a memory by the time he exits the airport, a memory that will haunt him for the next decade.
Five years later and he's taking a date to the exclusive opening of his very first art gallery showcase. The woman notices that all of the paintings are impressionistic portraits of the same woman. She asks him who the woman is.
He answers her.
This is their first and last date.
Seven years later and he's working for one of the biggest and most popular film festivals in the world. He's living out of his of car in the parking lot of a Gold's Gym. This type of mixed success is not new to him. He had worked as crew on some of the biggest productions in cinema.
He'd work himself to the point of exhaustion, vomiting a pint of blood mixed with bits of his lower intestine on set of a popular TV show. He continued working in film in New York after losing his apartment, crashing at a squatters' house while working on the Sopranos. He took orders from asshole coked up actors and ADs during the week and trolled the supermarkets at night, dumpster diving for food with freegans on the weekends.
The prospect of succeeding in film no longer meant anything personal for him. A few months out of college and he already knew that the film industry was a rich kids' game and passion and ambition mean nothing. His only ambition now was to impress her, to somehow make something of himself large enough to support her return overseas, to prove his worth and make her proud.
8 years later and he's no longer broke. Sure, he's running a sleazy Cash for Gold shop in a rundown white trash dump of a town, but he's found some minor success in writing drunken film reviews.
And then her country is hit by a devastating earthquake and after 4 years of no contact, they're talking again, like old friends, like old lovers.
The ban on his visa has been lifted, and he finally has the money and means to go back to her. He even finds someone else to pay the expense. A delusional romantic at heart, he hatches an idiotic plan. He'll travel under the guise of a film journalist covering the Tokyo International Film Festival for Twitch. He organizes a reunion party on the anniversary of his very first date with her. She'll come out to see old college friends and he'll surprise her. How romantic, how utterly foolish.
He buys his plane ticket for October 20th, 2011.
But the PR folks at the Tokyo International film festival are a studious bunch. They scour the pages of the website that he writes for and when they find that he's not listed as a writer on their FAQ page, they withdraw his press badge and travel stipend.
This is only a minor setback but he finally gives in to practical and logical reasoning. He lets her know that the party she's attending is something that he's organized, that he's coming back, coming back for her.
But it's too late. In the wake of a personal tragedy, another man has whisked her up off her feet, provided comfort and support, took her to Paris, and proposed to her three weeks prior.
And now he's back where he always was, the memory of the crying girl in the snow at the airport still sticking needles into his conscience.
He cancels his flight and applies for a press badge for the Philadelphia International Film Festival.
He shows up for the opening night film on October 20th, not because he has any interest in the film, but to exploit the prospects of free booze at the after party. He plans to get drunk enough to forget the fact that he was supposed to be on a plane to see the only one he loved.
And then he reads the program guide's synopsis for the film in the lobby of the venue.
"In the beginning, it's all so simple. Anna notices Jacob in one of her classes and leaves a romantic poem on his car. For these two naïve college students, this small event paves the way into what could be a love that will last forever. When the UK-born Anna gets too wrapped up in Jacob's world and decides to overstay her visa, she is deported. Desperately trying to tear through large amounts of bureaucratic red tape, the couple is determined to find a way to keep from letting distance and time rip them apart."
He thinks to himself, "FUCK. MY. LIFE."
And out came the magical flask....
THE ACTUAL FUCKING REVIEW
Was Like Crazy the devastating experience I dreaded it would be?
Yes and no.
Drake Daremus' follow up to last year's Douchebag is an impressive yet oddly befuddling character study of a young couple in love. Like Crazy displays a natural progression and evolution from Douchebag. Both films are minimalist with mumble core elements, naturalistic acting, and a breezy freewheeling structure that belies expertly calculated pacing. And while both films feel improvised, it never becomes distracting or off putting. Both films also feature characters that feel real and probably hit too close to home for most, yet are not necessarily likeable.
Like Crazy is a solid film but this critic found one major annoyance that prevented me from ever connecting to the material. It's a superficial issue and maybe an unreasonable bias held by a bitter, jaded, and overly cynical film snob, but the cast is just so fucking attractive. Lead actors, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are so cute and pitch perfect looking that it became an over bearing distraction. And even when things get complicated for the characters and the couple find themselves seeing other people in their respective countries, their new partners are also Vogue cover gorgeous. Hell, even Anna's parents played by Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead along with her boss all look like they should be on a cover spread somewhere. Even the background extras walking about are ALL fucking beautiful.
I hate to sound so callous, obviously, looks are not the most important thing and mostly irrelevant in love. And's probably pathetic that my own insecurities have lead to an envy for ficitional chacters preventing me from appreciating the material itself.
BUT, there have been plenty of scientific studies to suggest that life is easier and happier for conventionally attractive people. The easiest way to move on from previous relationships is by finding someone new, and finding someone new is a lot easier when you're someone that every member of the opposite sex instinctly wants to fuck.
Moreso, Jacob (Yelchin) quickly finds success as a designer in the story, easily establishing his own business immediately after finishing his undergraduate education. Meanwhile, Anna quickly lands a junior editor position at a prestigious UK publication.
It's an unfair bias to project yourself onto fictitious characters in a film, but Like Crazy demands it. This isn't my story, it's Drake Dramus'. But when I found myself relating to so much and reliving so many specific moments in my own life, there was plenty to combat that connection leading to the impression of, "fuck these people, I want to go back and watch Once."
As a graduate from A.F.I, one of the most elite and highly esteemed film programs in the world, Dramus is a well-trained master of the medium, but as a native resident of Orange California, a lot of his sensibilities as a filmmaker are very L.A, and I'm very Philly.
Like Crazy plays out like Blue Valentine with the cast from Gossip Girl or any interchangeable MTV program.
On that note, both Valentine and Crazy are impressive features that realistically dissect the beginning and end of a relationship. Both are films largely improvised by the cast based on a bare plotline. Both feature phenomenal and emotionally honest performances. Yelchin and Jones are fantastic in their roles and add the same authenticy given by Gosling and Williams in Valentine. But both films' singular parts are stronger than their wholes.
Like Valentine, Crazy is a film about moments, and memories, the good times in our past relationships that we've romanticized into false hoods after things have come to a bitter end. In that aim, both films succeed. But the characters in Crazy do come off as something of an amorphous amoeba.
I spoke with many who loathed the characters. Selfish and irresponsible were common descriptions of Anna and Jacob. Relationships are complicated and all of us have been selfish and irresponsible at one point in our lives. All is fair in love and war and all that shit right? When a relationship is forced to end based on geographical logistics rather than actual differences, moving on becomes an emotional mine field.
It's impractical to hold on, hoping for some magical miracle that might bring you together again. Yet, as long as those feelings linger, it's nearly impossible to commit yourself fully to another person. Maybe that is selfish and irresponsible, but it doesn't make a person such an outright asshole.
Again, I think the problem many people really had with the lead characters were more superficial. They just have that "hipster" look. They have that "rich hipster" look, like they should be posing for those sleazy American Apparel ads that you find on the back of alternative newspapers and are sometimes advertised here on Twitch.
At least there's nothing quirky or overbearingly cute about the film and that certainly is refreshing when the bulk of American indie drama still seems stuck in the post Wes Anderson/ Little Miss Sunshine rut.
Anyone who has studied abroad or dated an international student domestically is going to relate to Like Crazy. And let's face it, anyone and everyone I've met who has studied abroad, left their heart abroad. Life is simply more exciting when you fall for someone in a foreign environment. Love is more passionate when it's unconventional and thereby more difficult. Dating in the real world is boring.
Personal stories like this are hard to critique. Like Crazy is a more than competent film with plenty of commendable attributes. It did win the Grand Jury award at Sundance, and regardless of your feelings for that filthy brothel of a festival, it does mean something. The pacing and structure here is note perfect but recommending it to the masses is still difficult. The privileged, uber hip crowd that attends Sundance is a lot different from the average movie going American public. It's a lot different than the angry, working class movie goers of Philadelphia.
Obviously, discussing subjectivity in regards to film and art is like saying cars need wheels to move. The film's success relies solely on the individual viewer's ability to project themselves unto the characters.
But maybe the woman sitting behind me at the packed screening summed the film up best during the credits.
"Stupid fucking spoiled white people."
Yes, yes they are, and unfortunately, I'm one of them.