A film about young lovers inherently lurks along the danger zone of cliche from the start, but "Like Crazy" carries an authenticity that could not be achieved without a deep, real-life understanding of the subject matter.
Co-written and directed by Drake Doremus, the film stars Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek," "Fright Night") as Jacob and Felicity Jones ("Page Eight") as Anna. The two leads play a college couple kept apart post-graduation by circumstance and immigration law when, as a student from England studying abroad in Los Angeles, Anna overstays her visa and is barred from re-entering the United States. The plot is fiction, but the feelings contained are not.
"It started inspired by my own life -- a long-distance relationship and another relationship that I was in in my life -- and just sort of working through those emotions and those feelings," Doremus told The Huffington Post in a phone conversation last week. "And then my co-writer, Ben York Jones, has also been through long-distance relationships, so he brought a lot of himself to the process. And then Anton and Felicity improvised the film based on our very specific outline and direction, brought a lot of themselves. Really, it started with me but it really kind of came to fruition when everyone put their two cents in."
The project is a true collaboration. Doremus and York Jones put together a 52-page outline for the film, creating characters very loosely based on the director's past. Once they cast Yelchin and Jones, they allowed the actors to bring the script to life with improvisation that created its own reality.
"A lot of their inside jokes and a lot of their special, spectacular little magical things that really only the two of them have really sorted of generated through the rehearsal process," Doremus said, "through my guidance they found a really sort of unique thing, so that Anton and Felicity could sort it out and they believed in everything they were saying and everything they were doing."
As the pair is torn apart by distance and time, the film grows sparser and more pained, the uncertainty between Jacob and Anna more obvious. They each hold secrets of other love interests and growing attachments to their otherwise blossoming lives, and glances, stares and sighs begin to tell as much a story as the dialogue does. The discomfort was won, on screen, from time apart; on-set, it was borne of unending time together.
"Usually, the first couple of takes [of a scene] would be very talky and it would be very expository and it would sort of balloon into this sort of other land and sometimes there'd be tangents and different things like that," he said. "Really each take we'd sort of distill the scene and the emotional beats, and by the end, it would be a very sort of almost a simplistic version of what we had started with."
Most of their time together comes in London, where Anna is stranded as her lawyer tries to arrange a lift on her ban from the U.S. A quiet moment the pair spend intertwined beneath a tree in one of the English capital's parks encapsulates their dilemma, with Jacob telling Anna, "I don't feel like I'm a part of your life. I feel like I'm on vacation." Back in L.A., he's building his own home -- quite literally, as he creates a nest in a loft space above the wood shop where he headquarters his burgeoning furniture business -- and intermittently dates an employee named Sam, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Anna, on the other hand, is a budding journalist who starts a secret tryst with her neighbor, Simon, played by Charlie Bewley.
Those side relationships are more than just plot points and dramatic distractions; as Doremus says, they represent healthier, more stable options for both Jacob and Anna. But in the film, as in life, it's hard to make what should be the clear choice. And though their breakdown rides as much on ill-timed calls and text messages left unanswered, Doremus chalks up at least part of his film's organic feel to the timeless nature of its quandaries.
"Technology changes, but love never does," he said. "It always stays the same, whether it's 200 years ago or today, we're still dealing with the same problems: the heart and the emotions always get in the way in the same fashion, whether technology or not."
"Like Crazy" hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.