We’ve got a new British ingenue on our hands. Two years ago, the Sundance Film Festival launched Carey Mulligan into stardom with the one-two punch of An Education and The Greatest, and this year, Drake Doremus’s long-distance romance Like Crazy — which Paramount just snapped up for $4 million — could do the same for the heretofore little-known actress Felicity Jones. An intriguing blend of Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton, Jones has an avid onscreen presence and pursed sex-symbol lips (most recently, she played daughter to Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s version of The Tempest). The movie works its way to a point where Jones and Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence are both vying for Anton Yelchin’s affections, and though Doremus dims Lawrence’s star wattage enough that it becomes an unfair fight, Jones is so irresistible that she hardly needs the handicap.
Like Crazy can boast three appealing leads in Jones, Yelchin, and Lawrence, and they’re sensitively directed by Doremus; if only the movie itself had a little more ingenuity. Like the recent Ryan Gosling–Michelle Williams drama Blue Valentine, it’s the years-spanning ups-and-downs story of young couple Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones), who go from adorable lovers to passive-aggressive fighters. The movie even cribs a sad, blue-tinted shower scene from Blue Valentine, but it’s not as explicit or depressing as that film, something that seems to be the modus operandi of Like Crazy: Anything Blue Valentine did, Like Crazy can do a little bit tamer. (Maybe Blue Valentine just needed a falling-in-love montage on the Santa Monica Pier?)
Jacob and Anna meet in college, but the British native is so enamored of her new boyfriend that she stays in California over the summer, violating her visa. When she heads back to England for her sister’s wedding, expecting to be gone for only a week, she is detained while trying to return to the U.S. and unable to for years. Over that span of time, Jacob and Anna vow their undying love, gradually break up, meet other people (including Lawrence as Jacob’s new flame Sam) and then tentatively swerve back together again. Their reunions are often short-lived, but neither can deny that there’s something there — whether it’s the stuff that a long-lasting relationship is made of, however, is unclear.
Like Blue Valentine, the film is heavily improvised, and while the performances are appealingly natural — in particular, Yelchin has shed the precocious self-consciousness he had as a younger performer, and is all the better for it — the scenes tend to play out familiar situations with banal, perfunctory dialogue. (The movie’s got a single memorable line, when Lawrence prepares breakfast in bed and notes, “I don’t share bacon.”) Jones is a find, and she and Yelchin have real chemistry, but Like Crazy is too mild to fully capitalize on it. Their cinematic forebears Gosling and Williams had emotional, NC-17-skirting sex that revealed uncomfortable truths about both characters. Jones and Yelchin are content to simply spoon.