Movie Review: Felicity Jones pines for Anton Yelchin, and vice versa in “Like Crazy”

The movies don’t do romantic longing very well any more. It’s trickier than it was in the old “An Affair to Remember” days, when love on the big screen had patience.

But Felicity Jones will break your heart at least once in “Like Crazy.” As Anna, she knows the affair she started as a British college student studying in Los Angeles is doomed, by distance and by the times.

It was impulsive of her to write a long letter confessing her interest in the shy teaching assistant Jacob (Anton Yelchin) as their college careers ended. It was impulsive of her to overstay her student visa just to be with him. And it’s an unfiltered impulse that makes her call him, her voice cracking, after they’ve agreed to be practical and go their separate ways in separate countries.

“It just doesn’t feel that this thing is going to go away. We should be with each other.

And maybe we agree with Anna, as persuasive as she can be. Or maybe we’re like Jacob – moved by her, devoted to her, but pragmatic enough to realize that at their age and in this age, merely loving somebody “like crazy” won’t be enough.

“Like Crazy” is writer-director Drake Doremus’s take on modern long-distance romance, with its many new obstacles in addition to the classic ones that generations have dealt with. Many a lover facing the prospect of a long distance affair has been moved to quote John Donne’s poem, “A Valediction: forbidding mourning,” in which he scoffs at couples who can’t handle separation, and compares his two lovers to points of a drawing compass — extended, but connected, even when they’re apart.

But Donne was writing hundreds of years before sexting, easy hook-ups and two-career couples. And all those work against Anna and Jacob in “Like Crazy.” They share the blush of youth, of seriousness about their respective art forms — she’s a writer, he’s a furniture designer — and a love of Paul Simon’s classic “Graceland” album.

But they’re from two different sides of the planet. And when she makes that fateful decision to overstay that visa, the obstacles pile up on this couple we’re meant to root for, through thick and thin.

Doremus (“Spooner”) has written a quiet film  — thin on dialogue, but filled with meaningful silences. An “I love you” is left hanging in the air, jealousy is in the open even if the arguments it causes are never closed. We glimpse the couple through a distant diner window, or spy them through trees in an English park.  We don’t see them in the throes of sexual passion, though we do see them with other partners.

Yelchin (the new Mr. Chekov in the “Star Trek” franchise), the occasional tear notwithstanding, seems as distant as some of those beautifully framed shots. Jacob and Anna are equally feckless when it comes to fidelity (He takes up with Jennifer Lawrence of “Winter’s Bone,” she with Charlie Bewley from “The Twilight Saga”).   But Yelchin doesn’t generate the same warmth or passion that Jones does. That is partly by design, as this whole affair was her idea, after all.

And it is a design flaw. “Like Crazy,” despite being bathed in the warm glow of young love, only rarely earns a tear, only occasionally insists that we shout “Hang the practicality! You kids HAVE to be together!”

In it’s own way, that’s a good thing, a worthy message to impart to young people new to that first great love. But then, getting the under-25s to go to a romance that’s not a romantic comedy isn’t as easy as it was when “An Affair to Remember,” or even “Sleepless in Seattle,” were new to cinemas.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.

Cast: Felicity Jones, Anton YElchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Alex Kingston

Credits: Written and directed by Drake Doremus, a Paramount Vantage release. Running time: 1:30.

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