Saturday, March 17, 2012

He's Just Not That Into You

I'm fond of quoting Howard Hawks, particularly his assertion that a good movie consists of at least three good scenes and no bad scenes. It's a good critical standard, more rule of thumb than hard and fast criterion. Like every rule, though, it has its limitations. There are movies that put it to the test. One such movie is Like Crazy (2011, directed by Drake Doremus), which was a big hit at Sundance last year, where it took a Grand Jury Prize and a prize for lead actress Felicity Jones. I won't grouse about Felicity Jones. She's terrific. She's going to be a star. So is Anton Yelchin, probably. If Jennifer Lawrence isn't already a star, she'll be a superstar after next week. Like Crazy is likely to be one of those movies that film snobs hoard as a talisman of their coolness, given its collection of good actors in early-career roles. Not me, though. I didn't like it much, in spite of the fact that it has more than three good scenes and no really bad ones and the fact that it has superior performances. I think it's more a flaw in the overall design of the film than any individual fault in how it's filmed or how it's performed.

The story in Like Crazy follows several years in the love affair of Anna and Jacob, who meet in their last year of college. Anna is from the UK and in the United States for school. She's a writer. Jacob is a furniture designer. They fall deeply in love, so much so that Anna can't bear to part from Jacob when her visa is up. She overstays it and when she eventually returns to the UK for a wedding, she isn't allowed back into the country. They embark on a long distance love affair, strained by the fact that both of them meet someone else. Jacob has an affair with his co-worker, Sam, while Anna falls into a relationship with Simon back in England. Anna is stymied at every turn when she tries to re-enter the US, while Jacob has a growing business in LA that he is loathe to leave. Anna, too, has a burgeoning career. On a visit to the UK, Jacob marries Anna, but that doesn't cut through the bureaucracy keeping her out of the US.

For the most part, the circumstances keeping Anna and Jacob apart seem like a contrivance. The scene in which Anna overstays her visa, for instance, seems like it happens because it's demanded by the plot rather than because she is truly that impatient. And Jacob...well, he seems to be kind of pigheaded. His refusal to relocate to the UK--the door blocking them only swings one way, after all--seems predicated on ridiculous reasons if you accept that he's as crazy about Anna as she is about him. But that's hard to believe. He seems like kind of an asshole, actually. The characters who really get my sympathy in this movie are Sam and Simon, actually, because, well, they're fully realized characters who do things for comprehensible reasons. And, really, who wouldn't want to have either of them as a partner? They're gorgeous and smart. The fact that both Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence are amazing women makes Jacob's dilemma more than a little bit hard to sympathize with, because he's got a choice between perfect situations. Lucky guy. The fact that he seems to want it both ways makes him kind of a weasel.

Is it permissible in film crit space for me to complain about how fucking tired I am of the influence of John Cassavettes? I don't even know that it's even a direct influence anymore so much as it's a cultural expectation that independent character studies will look a certain way. The casual, seemingly uncomposed shots waver across the screen because in independent film, anymore, directors and cinematographers seem to have developed a full-blown phobia for tripods. Once upon a time, this was a convention used to make a film look natural and unrehearsed and impressionist, like a documentary, but it's hard to take this sort of thing seriously in a film like Like Crazy where every shot has been drenched in some kind of post production color correction and when it employs tricky editing schemes like the montage of our two lovers in bed in which a series of images flashes across the screen. Mind you, I might not mind all of this if I bought into the film's fictional universe. But I don't.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as much a sucker for delirious romanticism as the next girl. I can see the outlines of a first romance in Like Crazy. The scenes are terrific. They just don't add up to a cohesive whole.

1 comment:

Lee Price said...

From a casual glance at the magazine rack at Walgreens: Jennifer Lawrence hit superstar status this week. She's there. She doesn't even need the movie opening to cement it. (Regardless of where her career goes from here, I'll always love her for WINTER'S BONE.)