10/24/2011 09:54 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

Movie Review: Like Crazy

What kind of young-adult romance-drama wins Sundance? One that keeps you wondering just how happy its ending will prove to be.

Happiness, indeed, is a hard-to-commodify property in Like Crazy, a film by writer-director Drake Doremus. There are moments when the two central characters in this film, Jake and Anna, played with a blend of the bitter and the sweet by Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, seem deliriously, wildly happy.

But there are other moments when they obviously aren't. And the movie lets you see that, too. Most of the time, they're happy when they're together and they're unhappy when they're apart. Eventually, however, that shifts; the time together becomes less and less satisfying. Part of the film's intrigue becomes about watching these actors' body language and facial expression to see if you can see the crossover.

Jake and Anna are college students in L.A. when they meet. She's a would-be writer/poet; he's a future furniture designer with an aesthetic that looks as though it could be categorized as "tough comfort."

Once they hook up, it's full bore - but they're battling the calendar. She's British, on a year-abroad program, and her visa expires at the end of the school year. She wants to come back and pursue both Jake and an American career - but visa laws state that she has to leave and stay away for a couple of months before being granted a new visa.

She plays the spoiled brat and simply stays in America anyway, spending all her time with Jake, hanging out at the beach and amusement parks of Santa Monica or just staying in bed. But it's no simple schoolgirl prank: Once she goes back to England and then tries to return, she finds that, because she overstayed her visa, she's been denied permission to return to the U.S.

So her parents put a lawyer on the case, while Jake puts his head down and sets up his own furniture-design business, which seems to take off. Anna, meanwhile, goes to work for a fashion magazine, Ruffian, while trying to find her way back to America.

But both of them are jealous of the fact that they've begun seeing other people and, when her visa is denied yet again, they decide it's time to take the plunge: He travels to London and they get married, theoretically eradicating her visa issues. Or so they think...

Doremus makes the lovey part of this story extra lovey; these are people who can't keep their hands off each other. The first time they spend a day with her parents, there's a moment where they say goodnight to her parents - and they fall on each other as soon as her parents drop them off.

But Doremus understands the quantum physics of relationships, particularly ones where so much effort is spent on so little time together. When entropy strikes, it hits hard and with crippling effect, in a way that's much more pronounced than with a couple who see each other every day.

Doremus gets wonderfully nuanced performances by Yelchin and Jones, who convey the sudden maturing that distance-plagued relationships inevitably face. There aren't a lot of moments of emotional histrionics here; rather, it's about the increasingly chilly distance that creeps in when they're together after being apart.

Like Crazy captures the heady, dizzying intoxication of that first big, serious relationship. And it also offers the queasy, mortifying pain that a first relationship can impart. This is a smart, touching film that will make young viewers feel grown-up, while forcing the grown-ups to feel young again.

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