Bad Romance: Like Crazy and One Day

February 25, 2012

Supposedly free of the trappings of Hollywood Romantic Dramas and all the fantasy that they entail, Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy is a standard indie romance that owes a lot more to those Hollywood versions than it cares to admit.  It was a hit at Sundance, winning a Grand Jury Prize, and if ever there was a giant red flag, that must be it.  Still, there’s always hope that something in the film might elevate it above its genre trappings – and believe you me, indie romances are about as tied to those trappings as any Jennifer Aniston rom-com. 

The story is simple and yet it feels tediously complicated.  Anna (Felicity Jones) is an Englishwoman studying in LA.  She has a crush on a TA, Jacob (Anton Yelchin), from one of her classes, and she reveals this by writing a long and embarrassing note to him and leaving it under his windshield.  They go out for coffee, share a cutesy moment later that night involving a glass door, and that’s that.  As the following montage demonstrates, they are In Love.  The time comes when they graduate and her visa expires.  Instead of wisely moving back and then just coming back for a visit in a few months while they figure out the long-term, she stays in LA to spend three months lying in bed with him.  I presume that’s all they did, because that’s all we’re shown, in the form of – believe it or not – a series of Polaroid-like skills that makes me think Doremus found the instagram app for his iPhone and had A Brilliant Idea.  Anyway, she’s not allowed back in the country until everything is sorted out, so she begins The Demeaning Editorial Assistant position at a magazine to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist while he gets his furniture-making business up and running.  Yes, he lives in a loft above his studio.  They decide to break it off, but they love each other, so they visit, and then they decide to see other people, which he does in the form of his assistant, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence).  Anna has a neighbour, Simon (Charlie Bewley), whom Jacob finds suspicious.

Oh, it all moves on like this for 90 minutes.  Things happen, there are moments, etcetera etcetera etcetera.  The handheld, largely improvised quality should allow for a string of particularly recognizable, small moments that are ever so much more romantic than the big gestures associated with Hollywood Romance, but it never really does aside from the occasional gesture or line of dialogue that rings true.  The problem is that we’ve seen all of this before, and the last thing you want to do with a tired idea is to take away the all-important scenes where they find love with each other so we understand just what it is they like about each other so much.  This kind of thing tends to be telegraphed via clichés elsewhere, but here it’s ignored almost completely – or at least its attempts to handle it are so inadequate that they don’t register at all.  As it is, the film feels more like an observational piece; this happened then this happened then this happened.  To say these characters lack an emotional engagement with the audience would be an understatement.  I don’t know why they like each other or why we should like them.  This isn’t totally the actors’ fault.  Felicity Jones is naturally likeable and charismatic, and Yelchin has a certain awkward charm about him that it should work on a basic level.  Unfortunately they’re strapped down to scenarios that nobody could really find the humanity in.  She looks at his phone, he shouts, they have an argument, she shrieks about missing him, he looks confused, he gets jealous over short pauses in conversation, and so on.  Without getting to see the genuine humanity in the way they relate to each other, these scenes of discord are inexcusably cloying.

These basic issues at the story and structure level aren’t helped by Doremus’ bog-standard indie direction.  The visual style of the film is like every other low-budget American indie, except the occasional interesting flourish is replaced with a kind of DO YOU SEE clunky framing.  For instance, the day before Anne is supposed to go back to the UK, she and Jacob take a ferry to Catalina.  They are sat on the ferry across the aisle from each other, and I struggled to work out why they might be at odds.  Then I realized they aren’t at odds, it was just an excuse for a ham-fisted metaphor where the American flag is between them.  There are several other incidents like this where I’d normally be okay to just let it go were I involved in any way, but when you aren’t enjoying yourself, those little missteps seem to provide proof that its not a good movie and that’s why you don’t like it.

There is very little to recommend here at all.  A couple of good moments, some excellent supporting turns by Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead as Anne’s genial, understanding – but concerned – parents as well as Jacob’s would-be paramour Sam, who is given more genuine scenes of romantic interaction with Jacob than Anne and as a result feels like the right fit for him.  All in all, however, it stands as a prime example of bad indie filmmaking.  Not clever enough to transcend the genre, and not simplistically enjoyable enough to match up to Hollywood standards to compensate.

Surprisingly, Lone Sherfig (An Education) does reasonably well with the most melodramatic of middle-brown pseudo-indie film romance with One Day, a quirky weepy with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, based on a famous novel by David Nicholls, who adapted the screenplay.  The central conceit is fantastic and full of possibilities:  We follow the relationship of Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) over the course of about twenty or so years, but only by seeing them on July 15th of each year (Yes, that is St. Swithin’s Day and no, the Billy Bragg song is nowhere to be found).  Sadly, the fantastic conceit that is full of possibilities is largely squandered of its potential by a story and a script that tells only the most melodramatic of romances.  Maybe not Nicholas Sparks bad, but certainly what you’d expect for this kind of middlebrow fare.

Dexter is a posh cad who meets Emma on the night (well, morning) of their graduation from university in Edinburgh.  As they drunkenly wander down Cockburn Street, they decide to head back to her tiny flat where he promptly decides against doing anything and they fall asleep.  From there on out they are the best of friends as he lives the life of privilege and eventually, of course, becomes a gaudy TV presenter.  She moves to London with aspirations to become a writer but ends up working in a bad Mexican restaurant before eventually embarking upon a career as, what else, a primary school teacher.  All the while they maintain their friendship until it falls apart.  There’s a marriage, a long-term relationship, a reconciliation, and you can guess the rest.  The film has been widely criticized for just about everything, including its leads, but I thought Sturgess did quite well with an Etonian, shit-eating grin while still seeming somehow believably decent enough for Emma to like.  Hathaway’s accent has been widely commented upon, and it is indeed, poor (standard American-British with occasional words dropped in to remind/shock us that she is meant to be from Yorkshire), but her charm and comfort with the material sees it through the worst of the writing.  The “ha ha the 90s” stuff is there, sure, but it never dwells on it as a primary form of humour the way that something like Definitely Maybe did.  All in all, it works just fine for what it is.

The film is ludicrous, of course, especially in that there seems to be an awful lot of Big Things happening in these people’s lives on the fifteenth of July.  I would have liked to have a seen a film that was much more low-key in its story – even in some ways the tone that Like Crazy was reaching for and failed to grasp.  We do miss some “big events” and, indeed, some of the July 15ths are relatively mundane that still give us an idea of where the characters are.  Of course, the Biggest of the Big Events had me laughing out loud, despite it being a somber tragedy.  Despite all of that, the key to the film is the characters, and though they’re not particularly great characters, seeing them interact in honest ways throughout their lives is affecting.  We do get a sense of their friendship and deep bond, and it’s enough to get the movie through the howlingly bad moments.  I was surprised how moving I found the final scenes, where an old lover turns up in a coffee shop, or a man takes a little girl up Arthur’s Seat, and then, in a triumph of shameless manipulation, seeing the rest of that first morning.  I won’t go so far as to say the film is “good”, but I’m more than comfortable in saying it is “good enough”.  Sometimes going full throttle on the melodrama works better than it should, and that’s a key lesson for any aspiring indie filmmakers who should realize that they just aren’t clever enough to do any better.

Of course, if you want to experience the bittersweet beauty of young love lost, then you should probably just listen to Billy Bragg’s “St. Swithin’s Day”.  It’s got more genuine emotion in 4 minutes than both of these films combined.



2 Responses to “Bad Romance: Like Crazy and One Day”

  1. Greg Says:

    Time to delete the bootlegs of these movies that I haven’t gotten around to watch!

    • chiaroscurocoalition Says:

      Although we at the Chiaroscuro Coalition would never endorse any nefarious methods for acquiring films, I do think One Day is alright.

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