'Like Crazy' - a voyeuristic look at hindered love
Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin in Paramount Vantage's 'Like Crazy.'
Josh Visser, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, November 3, 2011 5:59AM EDT
TORONTO - Walking down a busy city street on a weekend night tends to have a bit of a voyeuristic element to it. Young couples can be found arguing, both in hushed, embarrassed tones and in outbursts of anger, with raised voices that cause heads to swivel. Or you see them locked in an intimate mess of lips and arms and you know they don't see anyone else around them, even if you wish they would.
That feeling -- of haphazardly walking in and out of a couple's private moment – is the best way of describing "Like Crazy," a quiet but powerful film that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
"Like Crazy," opening in Toronto on Nov. 4, is already the fourth film for 28-year-old director Drake Doremus ("Douchebag"). It's his most personal movie to date, based on his own experience with an ex-girlfriend.
"It's extremely cathartic," Doremus said of making a movie to get over an ex in a round of interviews during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "What's surprising to me more than anything is that this is so many people's story, it's not just my story."
Despite its advertising, "Like Crazy" is not a conventional Hollywood love story, it has a beginning, yes, but there's no middle, no end, just the moments after the start.
Filmed entirely on a hand-held, modified Canon 7D digital SLR camera, "Like Crazy" was completely improvised, with the lead actors working from an outline from Doremus.
Staring Anton Yelchin "(Star Trek") as Jacob, a young American furniture designer, and newcomer Felicity Jones as Anna, an English writer, "Like Crazy" is sure to garner comparisons to "Blue Valentine" -- another intimate-slash-depressing look at a crumbling 20-something relationship.
"It's not melodramatic, it's very honest . . . it's intelligently voyeuristic," Yelchin said of his movie. "It's about two people's first loves and how painful it can be to them."
He's not wrong.
The story is a simple one, the kind that might irritate anyone over 25 who has only seen the music video-esque trailer of pretty kids doing pretty things. Anna and Jacob meet in L.A. at the end of college and fall in love in the same unique way everyone does. Her visa is up when school ends, but she decides to stay anyway.
Overstaying Homeland Security's welcome on a love-drunk whim becomes the catalyst for the film which follows the pair's on-again, off-again long-distance relationship into the first years of their adulthood.
Basically, it's the story of two kids that stay together because they love each other intensely, even when the tides of their lives suggest they'd best part.
The film's improvised nature sets a naturalistic, subdued tone. No one can be accused of overacting.
Takes would go on for about 30 minutes, something economically unfeasible before the digital age.
"After the first five minutes, people stop acting, they forget there is a camera there and truth happens," Doremus said of why he prefers to work in that style. "There is no objective, there's just reacting and responding to the circumstances."
Yelchin called the lack of fixed lines liberating and said that after intensive rehearsals he understood his character better than himself.
"You just open your mouth and whatever comes out and whatever doesn't come out, is that person," he said. "We talked about everything and one of the rules was: There's no where you can't go as long as it's your character.
Film links up two rising stars
Yelchin, familiar to mainstream audiences as Pavel Chekov in "Trek" and indie fans from "Charlie Bartlett," was a safe bet for Doremus, but the same couldn't be said about Jones, a virtual unknown at the time of her casting.
Doremus had already looked at about 50 different actresses when he saw her audition tape, which she filmed partially in the shower of her London flat. Doremus cast the now 27-year-old actress without her even reading with Yelchin, despite knowing the pair's chemistry would make-or-break "Like Crazy."
"She just blew me away," the writer-director said.
He offered her the job, and within seven days they were shooting in Los Angeles.
"It was quite petrifying because I knew what we were about to embark on," Jones said.
"The first time we met I thought, ‘This is going to be really difficult if he's not that cool,'" she added with a proper laugh.
And lucky for Doremus, his hunch about Jones worked out, as she gives one of the year's stronger performances in "Like Crazy."
There's one particular scene that will hopefully be played before any award shows in which Anna and Jacob get into a tense fight in the kitchen of her flat. But there's no throwing of dishes, no screaming, no pushing. Instead, it's one of those awful, reasonable fights.
She tries to maintain her composure, she doesn't want the neighbours to hear, she doesn't think they need to have this conversation. It's painfully real to watch.
Jones won the Special Jury Prize for Best Actress at Sundance and has earned comparisons to Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan as the next British actress to take Hollywood by storm. She's set to appear in five movies within a year's time frame, including "Hysteria" with Maggie Gyllenhaal and has another with Doremus, due in 2012.
Jones acknowledges she's at a key point in her career, but feels confident about its direction.
"As long as you make decisions that feel right and you are not too influenced by other people then you should be OK," she said.
As for Doremus and his ex, he said he fictionalized as much as he could about their relationship in "Like Crazy."
Still, that probably didn't make watching the movie together, which they did at Paramount's studios, any less awkward.
"It was an emotional experience," Doremus said quietly.