A boy and a girl, connected though apart
This is the first film of the 20th Anniversary Philadelphia Film Festival. It will be shown during the opening-night celebration at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
For as long as there have been movie romances, conventional practitioners of the form have adhered to the three-act rule of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl. Drake Doremus is not a conventional practitioner.
Like Crazy, his acute romance starring the appealing Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones as impetuous young lovers, has its own rhythms. In it, girl meets boy, girl loses visa, girl and boy struggle to maintain intimacy over long distance. In it, girl and boy wonder whether intimacy is possible without proximity. In it, longing is to the lovers what photosynthesis is to plants.
Doremus sees Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) as romantics who connect despite disconnection. Behold them during the white heat of their courtship: They are in the same place, but rarely in the same frame.
As the film progresses, the narrative intercuts their parallel lives, his in Los Angeles as a furniture designer, hers in London as a magazine writer. Watching their stories play out put me in mind of Andrew Marvell's poem "The Definition of Love": "As lines, so love's oblique, may well/ Themselves in every angle greet/But ours, so truly parallel/Though infinite, can never meet."
This seems true. What is also true is that Jacob, quiet and watchful, and Anna, unquiet and demonstrative, do intersect in many important ways. Their fondness for Paul Simon, for instance, and his song "Crazy Love." The way their bodies fit together. The gifts they give each other. He makes her a chair that hugs her even when he cannot. She writes him poetry that embraces him when she's not there.
This low-key, and at times downbeat, relationship movie isn't for those who like meet-cutes and neat resolutions. Doremus isn't a "peak moments" kind of filmmaker, a purveyor of ecstatic exchanges such as first kisses and hot sex. He's more the sidelong-glances type, a filmmaker who conveys microclimates of mood without characters declaring their feelings. His characters may shy at uncertainty and ambiguity. Doremus does not. He keeps his camera trained on that smudgy line between loyalty and love.
In this swift-moving film that skates through three years in less than 90 minutes, Doremus condenses and compresses scenes from a relationship, stripping each sequence to what feels like its atomic weight. His jump cuts create the impression of watching characters by way of time-lapse photography. The dialogue may be unmemorable, but the vibe resonates.
Yelchin and Jones are up to the challenge of suggesting much by doing little. As with Doremus' direction, their minimalism has maximal impact. At movie's end, we're anxious for them. We want to know what happens next.
Like Crazy *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Drake Doremus. With Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence. Distributed by Paramount Vantage.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (discreet sex)
Playing at: 8 p.m. Thursday at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theater, 3680 Walnut St., followed by post-screening Q&A. Tickets: $20, $50 for movie and gala. Also, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ritz East, 125 S. Second St. Tickets: $12.
For more information on the Philadelphia Film Festival, go to http://www.filmadelphia.org/.
Contact Carrie Rickey at firstname.lastname@example.org.