13 November 2011

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?

The first warning sign was that Like Crazy won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, though despite how much I like to argue the contrary, it's not actually true that nothing good ever comes from Sundance. Heck, just this year we got Take Shelter. However, in this case bigotry wins out: Like Crazy is awful, and it is awful in exactly the ways that indie films can be awful. All of them. What might well be the movie's crowning achievement is that it combines the bad habits from at least two different indie film sub-groups, without any of the attendant good points that sometimes manages to tip the balance to the side of tolerability.

And yet, somehow, the film has picked up for itself a reputation for being pretty darn okay, even good, since its debut in the snowy Utah wastes of January, 2011. Now, it is an admitted pleasure of being an arrogant sonofabitch film critic to feel like one has cleverly seen right through a movie that has snookered everything else, but it hardly feels sporting to have seen through something as flaccid and starved for meaning as Like Crazy.

Here we go: Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) meet when he is TA'ing a class she's taking at an undisclosed Los Angeles university. She stalks him in a completely charming way, and they start dating and they just love the shit out of each other, so when the summer comes and they both graduate and she needs to go back to Great Britain because her student visa is about to expire, and she'll be away for two and a half months. Two and a half months, people. That's like, oh my Christ, that's ten weeks! So obviously, they decide that Anna should stay, and then she goes home for her sister's wedding, and when she tries to come back, the Department of Homeland Security informs her that she is in fact a criminal and had best return to England and get things sorted out. This is a heart-wrenching shock to both of the lovers, because Anna was trying to return to the US as a tourist, not a student, and also because they are the two stupidest people alive. The rest of the movie consists of the next three or four years as they try to keep up a long distance relationship (the film goes out of its way to give an unsatisfactory explanation for why Jacob doesn't just move to England), and can't; try to fall in love with other people, and don't want to; and basically wonder how they can possibly get back with each other in the face of this cruel, hard fate. That they brought upon themselves. On account of being so ludicrously dimwitted that it's kind of amazing that they don't starve to death during the course of the movie.

Two things were necessary for Like Crazy to sell its central love story as being worth our time. One is that the protagonists had to not be loathsome idiots - oh, sorry. The other is that we have to feel that their love is as deep and eternal as they do, and this also does not happen; they come together for no apparent reason besides being, both of them, pretty, and we don't see very much of their time together that isn't presented by director & co-writer Drake Doremus in a poppy montage of still photos that is very kinetic and magical and cinema and everything but does not in fact demonstrate that these people love each other in any particularly interesting way. As near as we can tell, they love each other in the floppy, quirky way of many Sundance-bred indies with the exception - and this is very important - without actually being quirky, which has the horrible and unexpected side effect of making them less interesting, because instead of having a trite, prepackaged personality, they have none at all. Nor do Jones and Yelchin have anything resembling chemistry: Jennifer Lawrence, in a small role as Jacob's failed attempt at another woman, provides the movie with its only sex at all.

This film's idea of characterisation is to make the lovers realise that they are soulmates because they both like Paul Simon's album Graceland; its idea of wit - and economy, I suspect - is that the only song from Graceland we ever hear, a few times, is "Crazy Love". Ho ho ho. Its idea of visually communicating deep and abiding love is to have them touching each other's fingertips through a glass door, which is especially funny because there exists a photo of me and a friend doing basically that to parody this brand of superficial indie romance, and that photo was taken in 2006. At one point, Anna, an aspiring writer, shares a poem with Jacob, and includes the line "The halves that halve you in half". She is embarrassed and asks if that's really terrible. "Yes", I thought, "and you should think about burning to death because of it". "No, it's darling and unique and you are God's Precious Dewdrop" says Jacob (or basically), and I want to push him on the fire right on top of her, so they can tragically die together.

Doremus (who has already made three other features, and must be capable of better work than this, or they'd make him stop) elects to shoot all of this with the determinedly artless style of the Mumblecore scene, only without the aggressively gritty "fuck you" non-aesthetic that gives those films their personality; it's at once low-budget and superficially slick as a clothing commercial, a weird combination that rather undercuts the obvious desire that this be a Real Look at Real Relationships (it is at partially autobiographical, we are told). Not that the film needed any help on that front: it is built on a fairy tale structure of impossible contrivances and is generally about as close to life and true as Just Go with It, only even more obnoxious because a film like that doesn't actually present itself as being honest.

One learns to look for whatever silver lining that can be found in the face of so much pronounced insipidity; here, it comes mostly in the form of Jones, one of those natural film actors that the camera wants to make love to, over and over again, passionately. She cannot save Anna, the more confusingly-written of the two characters, and she cannot drag up Yelchin to her level - he wears a constant vacant expression, and looks like all of his blood was replaced with skim milk - but she knows how to hold the camera. And it must apparently be genetic, because her onscreen parents (Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston) are by far the film's best-acted and most interesting characters, a pair of jovial middle-aged charmers with a penchant for constant drinking, whose obvious infatuation with each other says more about the joy of being in love than all of Anna and Jacob's significant glances and delicate sensibilities. I would have watched a movie about their love affair; it would undoubtedly have been a more insightful tale than this aggravating collection of anodyne white upper-middle class whining and self-sabotage.

3/10

9 comments:

MrRoivas said...

Sounds adorably indulgent and pretentious.

Out of curiosity, if you had to enumerrate the common flaws of indie films, and their two subgroups, this not as knowledgeable cineophile would appreciate it.

Alex Carlson said...

So glad to hear I'm not in the minority on this one. It took home the top prize at the Twin Cities Film Festival (albeit, the competition was thin) and everyone around was touting its brilliance, without ever being able to tell me why.

It is a vapid, humorless anti-love story that looks like it was made by someone whose seen too many Godard movies, without ever getting them.

Tim said...

MrRoivas-

The two I had in mind were quirky character-driven pieces in the Wes Anderson vein, and Mumblecore. The first of which is full of precious details e.g. a romantic lead who wants to be a furniture designer who makes his beloved a chair with "Like Crazy" stencilled on the bottom, the latter of which is full of poor filmmaking disguised as lo-fi "realism", married to an incredibly blinkered worldview that admits nobody other than white creative class types. They are not the only two types of indie film, but two of the most common, and most annoying.

Alex-

That Godard comparison is perfect.

McAlisterGrant said...

"Its idea of visually communicating deep and abiding love is to have them touching each other's fingertips through a glass door, which is especially funny because there exists a photo of me and a friend doing basically that to parody this brand of superficial indie romance, and that photo was taken in 2006."

Do you get to pick your Rotten Tomatoes blurb? If so, can you use the above quote? Please?

McAlisterGrant said...

Never mind! It seems you've got that covered, and that blurb would be too long anyway. Needless to say, that was my favorite part of this review.

You dole out the snark sparingly, but when you do, it's quite good.

Jess said...

This movie deserves such an ass-whipping, I can't even tell you. Thank you for doing your part to save us from the onslaught of this self-indulgent, emotionally manipulative cinematic excrement.

Andrew Testerman said...

Why Do Fools Fall in Lava?

Detroit Sports Jabber said...

The constant focusing on their faces ends up proving claustrophobic -- every shot, it's a CU or MS of their faces, their faces, everywhere their faces... The love scenes are more chaste than a PG film (although it looks the director managed to get himself an eyeful, likely), so we don't even get a sense of any real passion here, just constant painful longing. It's like a Love Story, re-written by a modern 12-year-old. See also: The Great American Sleepover. Felicity, Anton & Jen Lawrence are cute; that in itself doesn't carry a film. You're right -- her parents are far and away the most interesting parts of this film, and their screen time totals about 10 minutes. Ugh.

David said...

Funny. I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Dull characters. Thin plot, hard to believe at times, no chemistry. However, what I think works about it, is that one way to make a depressing love story is to fill it with uninteresting, vacant, unengaging characters. I dont think the movie answers why they are together? Not sure if that's intentional or not, but it's kind of hilarious to make a love story like that.