When I first saw the advert for Like Crazy at the cinema in 2011 I was torn over whether I wanted to see it or not. I was going through a nasty breakup and was about to flee the country leaving my lost love behind and dragging my sorry self back to England. Did I really want to spend an hour a half watching a similar post university emotional train wreck? I decided against, and hence I’ve only just seen the film now – which I think was probably a good thing as it probably would have upset me a fair bit back in those dark days of recent separation. Let me tell you if you’ve never been through it – there’s a reason the love sick puppies in this film are rarely without a drink in their hand.
I also held off on watching this at the cinema because I had my suspicions about it as well, it had the potential to be just a bit too saccharine and unbearable. Did I really want to watch one of those couples (you know the ones) on screen for an hour and a half? Really? Was I going to do that to myself? I had a feeling this film was either going to cut to the quick – absolutely nail all that love sick anguish, or it was going to be a chick flick hatchet job – and I was erring on the side of the latter.
I was wrong, obviously. And it was great. The clothes were great, the atmosphere was right, it was beautifully shot; good work Drake Doremus. Like Crazy is the story of Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin). Anna is the English rose on an exchange year in LA, and Jacob is the handsome young American classmate she falls for. Perfect honeymoon romance ensues, Anna overstays her student visa, goes home, tries to get back into America, gets deported, nightmare begins. Lots of backwards and forwards – ing, physically (for Jacob) and mentally (for both), heartbreak, unhappiness and confusion.
There are a lot of things in this film that I found to be very real and raw, and I think this was a big part it’s charm for me – I can relate to these characters. The improvised dialogue is great, shots taken from outside doorways – as if you are a real spectator – work very well. But it’s more than that; I know these people. I know the people who went on exchange to the west coast. I know people who came on exchange from the west coast. I know a couple who could have been negatives of Anna and Jacob. He met his girlfriend at Oxford when she was on an exchange year from New York, perpetual saving for flights began and the pain radiated outwards. You wouldn’t wish long distance relationships on your worst enemies. This is just an example of one couple I know, I could give more. Universities are responsible for this one, freedom to move around as a student is great – until you fall in love and your visa expires. Then it’s just a ticking time bomb to misery.
So the mechanics of it all looked real to me, all apart on one thing; the money. That’s the kicker. My friend and his american eventually had to (very painfully) call it quits because they just couldn’t afford their relationship, and it was ruining them, emotionally as well as financially. Anna has a deep well of financial stability behind her, being able to spend the summer in LA in the first place, to have an internship in London, to have a lawyer to smooth over her visa mistake, to be able to offer to fly Jacob out . . . this is beyond the realms of most people I know, and that’s where the film fell down a bit for me. Jacob (who incidentally cannot draw AT ALL) rents an uber cool MASSIVE loft to run his immediately very successful furniture business from, and the money will come from somewhere to support Anna when she eventually moves in without a job. It’s another film about hipster rich kids and their difficult lives (I’m thinking of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture here). Anna and Jacob’s situation is hard, but from my perspective, if it had been me in that situation it would have been a whole lot fucking harder because the logistics just would not have been affordable. Full stop. (At least on a hugely international scale where long distance flights and visas are concerned, within Europe it would be possible).
On the whole though . . . I liked it a lot. Relationships change and develop, and so do people – it’s difficult to make things work when the components are so unstable, and that’s before you add an ocean to the mix. It’s difficult to pin down the complexity of a relationship in a film, but all involved make a surprisingly good job of it here.
Winter’s Bone, 2010
I stumbled across this film mid Twin Peaks obsession (Sheryl Lee has a bit part) and I was amazed at the number of awards it had been nominated for/won. Amongst its numerous accolades Winter’s Bone was nominated for four academy awards including best picture, and won two awards at the Sundance Film festival. With such credentials setting the bar quite high I decided to give it go.
Filmed in rural Missouri Winter’s Bone transports you to a harsh and unforgiving environment, much like the locals who inhabit it. The people here are poor and life is far from easy. Seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has her hands full taking care of her young brother and sister and mentally ill mother. Ree’s father is on bail for cooking up meth amphetamines and has gone missing. The local sheriff drops by to tell Ree that the family house has been put up as part of the bond for bail, and if her father does not show up for the trial then the house will be repossessed. In a desperate attempt to hold the family together and save what little they have Ree sets out to track down her father. This proves be both dangerous and difficult. Jessup Dolly has got himself mixed up with a cast of local criminals and they are not keen to reveal his whereabouts lest their own dodgy dealings attract some unwanted attention.
Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as Ree (this is deservingly reflected in award nominations). We are drawn into Ree’s struggle, desperation and the real helplessness of her situation. Her ambition is to join the army, and in one scene she sits down to discuss this with a recruitment officer. With a black eye and a swollen lip she asks tentatively about the $40,000 she would receive for enlisting but is dismayed when she discovers that this would not be paid for some time. She is also too young to enlist and her missing father and vacant mother would not be able to sign for her. The recruiter suggests that perhaps it is better to stay at home and deal with the problems there. It is upsetting that Ree’s life is governed entirely by duty and responsibility; every action she takes is something that she has no choice in, even if it puts her life in danger. She has no real control, but is caught up in the forces around her. The frustration that surrounds not being able to find her father sinks into every aspect of her life; she is trapped in an impossible situation.
The choice of location out in the woods is interesting. Ree teaches her younger siblings how to shoot and skin squirrels. We also see her chopping wood at various points. Out in the woods everyone seems to be self reliant, something that is a strong trait in Ree. While skinning squirrels she instructs her bother to pull out the guts, and when he protests she forces his hands, telling him that he must learn not to be afraid of such things. This scene is paralleled later when Ree is taken out to a lake to cut the hands off her father’s body and is told that she must pull them out of the water. She is physically shaking while pulling them out of the water and you understand that Ree feels that she has no choice but to this and must face up to reality. She is reluctant to ask for help from anyone believing that she can, or should deal with problems alone. There is also the uneasy feeling that out in the sticks the locals are rather keen to take the law into their own hands, and at various points I was sure that even the self reliant Ree was about to get kidnapped, shot, raped or otherwise swallowed up by the undergrowth.
In the end things turn out sort of ok, but you can’t escape feeling that Ree is a good person who has been dealt a bad hand and it is going to be a constant struggle for her to make the best of it. Did Winter’s Bone deserve its accolades? Yeah, I think so; don’t expect it to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy though.
Trivia tidbit: Sergeant Russell Schalk, who played the army recruiter, is a real life recruitment officer for the army. Jennifer Lawrence asked him in character questions as Ree and he responded as he would to real applicants.