Middle Row, Centre: Loving Like Crazy

Landmark Cinemas’ Filmtastic Films series (formerly called the Arts Films series) reaches its halfway-point this week with Like Crazy.

A shoestring-budget independent feature that won the Grand Jury award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, it’s a love story that’s remarkable on a number of fronts.

Most notable is the fact that its dialogue is almost entirely improvised. Director Drake Doremusstarted out with a 50-page treatment, a backstory, and nothing much else in the way of a script.

It’s a testament to the skill of his young actors that the story comes off as well as it does.

Russian-born American actor Anton Yelchin (Starship Enterprise member Chekov was featured in the 2009 Star Trek prequel) plays Jacob, Los Angeles-based college student in his mid-20s.

His attractive classmate Anna is played by newcomer British actress Felicity Jones.

After she pins a two-page note to his car’s windshield expressing her interest in him, they meet for coffee, date and fall madly and inextricably in love with each other.

The two become inseparable, but as the end of their graduation year approaches, Anna – a journalism major on a student visa – must return to her native Britain.

Just before her flight back, they spend an idyllic evening on California’s Santa Catalina Island. The next day, Anna makes a rash decision that will affect the future course of their relationship indelibly.

Unable to bear being apart from Jacob, yet mindful that her student visa has expired, Anna resolves to spend the rest of the summer with him in Los Angeles.

In the fall, she returns home for a friend’s wedding. When she flies back to America on a tourist visa a few weeks later to be with Jacob, she is refused entry because she had overstayed her previous visa.

Her well-off parents consult lawyers, but to no avail. The U.S. immigration authorities remain unbending.

Anna and Jacob’s love is tested as their separation stretches out to months, then a year, and then years. With only brief visits to London to sustain him, Jacob begins to take an interest in Sam, the young assistant in his burgeoning furniture-making business, played by Jennifer Lawrence (notable for her excellent debut in last year’s Winter’s Bone).

For her part, Anna starts a relationship with her boring next-door neighbour.

But the two cannot shake each other from their systems.

Like Crazy has been praised, not only for the performances of its two leads, but also for its grip on reality.

It’s a timely illustration of the adage that the course of true love never runs smooth, especially in the post-911 era of terrorist scares and tightened immigration laws.

Director Doremus’s Austrian ex-wife claims that the film is a pretty accurate portrayal of their ownrelationship and her immigration difficulties.

Like Crazy is not so much a study in the course of a romance, as in the dynamics and consequences of the separation between lovers.

The simple expedient of pulling up stakes and marrying Anna in Britain is not one that Jacob considers, unwilling as he is to relocate his growing business and clientele.

Ultimately, the pair finds that marriage will still not solve Anna’s problems.

Their stalemated relationship, with its attendant long-distance calls, frustrating flights and legal wrangling, takes on mythic proportions, but remains grounded in practical considerations, as true love comes smack up against the real world of bureaucracy.

Like Crazy plays at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 4 and at 7 p.m. Monday, March 5 at the Qwanlin Cinema, and has no posted rating.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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