Netflix Gener-a-thon: Emotional movies featuring a strong female lead (Post 4/5)

(Writer’s Notes: Due to lack of variety in this current Gener-a-thon, I have made a few changes to my selection of films for this particular slate. I was originally going to review The Stoning of Soraya M. (Cyrus Nowasteh), but I have already included a couple weepy dramas and I felt I should diversify. I added Like Crazy because I was interested in looking at how the female lead is handled in a romantic film where ‘strength’ isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite. Next week, I have replaced Assassins Next Door with Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life – a classic film that will be a good point of comparison to the other works I’ve discussed.)

Like Crazy (2011)

Like Crazy

Like Crazy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director: Drake Doremus. Not familiar with his oeuvre, but judging from his IMDB page he is an off-shoot of the mumblecore movement.

Country: USA

Cast highlights: The film’s mostly little known, yet young and good-looking, cast features Anton Yelchin of Charlie Barlett and Alpha Dog and Felicity Jones as the two romantic leads. Also look for a pre-breakout Jennifer Lawrence in a small supporting role.

Netflix User’s Rating: 3.3 stars out of 5

One – sentence Synopses: A British college student from a well-to-do family and an aspiring American furniture designer fall in love while attending college in Los Angeles, but find their relationship tested by geographical distances and citizenship complications.

Emotional? :  Like so many sentimental Hallmark cards, Like Crazy tries in earnest to touch an emotional chord with the viewer. Unfortunately, the film’s attempt at a meditation on young love feels about as sincere as the schmaltzy, cursive poems churned out en-masse for Valentine’s Day. You are aware of what the film wants you to feel, but  just don’t feel it. That’s a problem for a film that has little narrative action, where success rests on the impact of intricately woven emotional moments. Like Crazy falls flat because those moments feel like surface level snapshots of a relationship between two people I felt mostly apathy towards.

The film concerns the relationship between British exchange student Anna (Felicity Jones) and an American furniture designer Jacob (Anton Yelchin) over the course of several decades. The two meet while studying in Los Angeles and quickly fall deeply and passionately in love while listening to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and running around the Santa Monica pier. Their romance is shown in a series of wispy montages that look like the bastard child of a shelved Fuji TV spot and a John Mayer music video. A cog is thrown in this Ferris wheel of love when Anna over stays her visa, and is subsequently banned from visiting the United States. A long-distance struggle ensues and eventually they decide to take a break allowing them to pursue other relationships. But alas, true love never dies and Anna and Jacob never really forget one another. But time and space have weakened their initial passion, and the film ends on a bittersweet note that leaves us wondering if their relationship has been fractured by the long period of time spent apart.

That we are spending the entire film with these two characters requires them to be interesting and complex for their relationship to carry any emotional weight. Unfortunately these are perhaps two of the least compelling romantic leads I’ve seen in a film. Their time together seems uninspired and dull- carrying none of the passion they seem to feel for each other. Jacob- who supposedly inspires Anna’s interest enough for her to leave a love note on his car by way of introduction- is about as intriguing as canned fava beans. I’ve met paint chips with more charm. Anna fares a little better, but not much – I’ll get into facets of her character later. I get that this may have been the point – suggesting that the overwhelming nature of love is more powerful than their individual personalities or inclinations. But the characters are so bland that it gives us little reason to care about their relationship. This is in part due to the fact that the film doesn’t leave much space for character development, insisting on revealing the romance in a series of pretentiously shot fragments. While these were probably intended to show the frenetic nature of young love, they felt like an unnecessary showiness – like Doremus was trying to show us all the cool things he learned to do in film school. Not helping matters is Yelchin and Jones’ complete lack of any sexual chemistry. For a film that is supposed to be about the fiery passion of a first love, it does not bode well that I was left feeling cold.

Strength of the female lead: The weakness of the female lead is in no way the film’s greatest flaw. In fact, one could make an argument to the contrary. Sure Anna is bland, but she cannot wholly be described as weak. She is the one to initiate the romance, boldly leaving a note on Jacob’s car asking him out for coffee. She has a strong career in her home country, and is consistently getting promoted at the magazine where she works. She certainly has more spunk, seems more alive than Jacob, and thus more preoccupied by their romance. Felicity Jones handles the part as well as she can- while the scenes she shares with Yelchin seem amateur, her solo breakdowns make palpable the sense of longing that the rest of the film fails to impart.

The one weakness of Anna’s character is the relationship she has with her hovering parents. While Jacob’s relatives are entirely absent from the film, Anna’s mother and father are a constant presence. They appear in a number of dinner sequences throughout the film, giving their subtle reactions to her daughter’s romantic relationships –with Jacob, and a subsequent relationship with another man.  While I grant that this may have been the director’s clever employment of a Greek Chorus to give an outsider reaction to the couple’s relationship, it has the consequence of making Anna appear co-dependent. It hearkens back to outmoded traditions of a girl’s family judging her potential suitors and deeming which one they feel suitable for their daughter. And while the film doesn’t go so far as to suggest Anna’s romantic fate rests on her parent’s decisions, the same kind of familial influence does not exist for Jacob.

Add to instant queue? :  Maybe those who have been in passionate love before will appreciate Like Crazy, but I just did not ‘get it’. Not crazy about it.

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