13 October 2011

Of Absence and Hearts

How quickly the 2011 London Film Festival has rolled around; it feels like only weeks ago that I was complaining about last year's surprise film (oh yes, that's because it was only weeks ago!). Each year at the festival, I like to go to at least one film that isn't one of the box-office-topping movies with an all-star-cast and this year, I picked Drake Doremus's film Like Crazy, which isn't a very edgy choice given the film's prizes at Sundance but it's no Ides of March either. Tonight was also the film's European première so the red carpet was rolled out and the charming Doremus and his beautiful female lead, Felicity Jones, came along to introduce the film and to answer some audience questions.

Drake Doremus and Felicity Jones

For me, Like Crazy is all about how fragile love is and how easy it to go from making custom Moleskines for each other and frolicking on the Santa Monica pier to being stuck 5,000 miles apart, trying to get on with your own life but knowing that the more you do this, the more removed you will feel from the other person. Maybe that's just because I've been in a bleak mood today. Jones plays Anna, an English student studying in LA who, during her last semester there, falls in love with Jacob (Anton Yelchin). They've never felt this way about anyone else before and all they want to do is stay in bed all day, drink whiskey and, well, enjoy each other's company. This section takes about 15 minutes and the rest of the film is spent with both of them doing everything they can to screw up their relationship. Their errors include (some spoilers follow):

  1. Anna outstaying her student visa by several months and then wondering why she is denied access and permanently barred from the US after she returns to England for a wedding and then tries to re-enter the US.
  2. Deciding to break up because they don't want to see their relationship die away but then not sticking to the decision, getting back together on several occasions, and messing around various lovers/live-in-architectural-assistants in the process.
  3. After exhausting the immigration appeals process, they decide to get married and spend approximately 15 seconds in bed, happily drinking champagne, before we cut to the next scene in which they are told that Anna can't get a marriage visa until the issues with her student visa are resolved, and they soon descend into sniping, shouting, text spying and all of those other Bad Signs.
The film was beautifully shot on a still camera, which had a very intimate feel. Alex Kingston and Olivier Muirhead provided some nice comedy moments playing Anna's whiskey-drinking, bread-baking, Balderdash-playing parents and Jones was very good, managing to portray Anna's agonies, ecstasies and agonising decisions. I was less convinced by Yelchin's Jacob; I didn't really believe in him as Anna's True Love. I definitely didn't buy into her English bloke, Simon, who is healthy and kind and extremely dull but I wasn't convinced that Jacob was much better. During the film--which has an interesting temporal structure, with uneven gaps between scenes, sometimes lasting months--both Anna and Jacob progress in their careers--she as a Devil Wears Prada-style assistant who eventually becomes an editor, and he running his own furniture design company, making the stakes for being together even higher.

Anna and Jacob's problem, as Felicity Jones put it after the screening, was that they mythologised their relationship too much at the beginning. They figured that because they had the hearts-and-flowers, everything else--the practicalities and the day-to-day--would follow. I wondered at several times during the movie whether certain scenes were improvised and it turns out that the film was entirely unscripted. The dialogue felt natural, real and, often, raw. As for the ending, it is ambiguous. Doremus asked the audience what we thought happened and we turned out to be a pessimistic lot. He did, however, say that the ending is also a beginning, or, rather, that the ending captures the relationship at just one moment that isn't any more special than the other moments they have had.

Jones, who formerly played Emma Grundy née Carter in The Archers, was recruited by Doremus via Facebook and as part of her audition, she made her own version of one of the key scenes in the movie--where Anna and Jacob are taking a shower--by herself, of course. So when a teenage audience member asked for tips on breaking into acting, Doremus suggested, "Shoot yourself in the shower," which really didn't sound inappropriate in context. He was still, sensibly perhaps, very quick to correct himself. I didn't ask any questions this time, but I thought about asking Jones what it was like going from Ed Grundy to this Jacob guy.

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