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‘Crazy’ Good

The most infectious love story in decades. Plus: Anonymous deserves to be lost to history.

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Men have died … and worms have eaten them, but not for love,” says Shakespeare’s Rosalind to her adored Orlando, and it might be true—but try telling someone in the fetal position, weeping over the loss of a lover, thinking only of a future as worm food. In Like Crazy, Drake Doremus gives you a dangerously enflamed dose of first love, from infatuation to intoxication to addiction to withdrawal and re-addiction. The movie is painful to watch even though it’s not especially deep or psychological—as painful as seeing the radiantly happy face of a child in that fraction of a second between his or her tripping and connecting with a hard object, when there’s nothing you can do except brace for the cruel end of innocence.

The boy, Jacob (Anton Yelchin), is American; the girl, Anna (Felicity Jones), English. They’re in the same media-studies college class, in L.A. She leaves a note for him under his windshield. (“Please don’t think I’m a nutcase …”) He calls. (“Graceland? That’s my favorite album!”) She has big eyes and big English teeth that give her an appealing forwardness and is very pretty. He has curly hair and is almost as pretty. God, they’re young—so tender, so giddily undefended, that it hurts just to look at them. The handheld camera gets all giddy, too. It moves in close, scanning one upturned face and then the other. Kiss already! The last love story this infectious, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, evoked the mounting excitement of an all-night baring-of-souls bull session, but Like Crazy happens at a pre-verbal level. At one point, snapshots of the sleeping/smooching/frolicking couple take the place of scenes, but you don’t miss the dialogue. Those pictures feel as if they’re being spit out of our collective photo-booth unconscious.

Doremus’s choice of impediments is shrewd: not absurdly easy to overcome, as in most rom-coms, but not soaked in fatalism, as in doomed-lover psychodramas like Blue Valentine. Jacob and Anna can’t tear themselves away from each other, so she overstays her visa and can’t get back into the country. His quirky-furniture-design business wouldn’t fit as snugly into a London milieu as it does in Venice Beach. She makes waves writing for a London magazine. There are other lovers in the picture—beautiful, devoted would-be mates like Jacob’s assistant, Sam (Jennifer Lawrence), and Anna’s neighbor, Simon (Charlie Bewley). Would marrying Jacob make it easier for the couple to get back into the groove—as well as into the U.S.—or would it be too much commitment too fast? Have they even gotten past the stage of projecting their true-love fantasies onto each other? I don’t think they know. I don’t think Doremus knows. That’s what makes the movie so intriguing—and Jacob’s LIKE CRAZY inscription on the bottom of a chair, as in “I love you like …,” so unnervingly prophetic.

Like Crazy has a lively syntax and could, in an ungrateful mood, be tagged as slick. But Doremus gets the tempos right. The movie jumps when it needs to and slows when it must. Jones and Yelchin are madly attractive without ever seeming like glamorous movie stars. Did I mention how young they look? His facial hair is like a 14-year-old’s first sad beard, while she’s a little girl playing at being a sophisticate. Neither can bear the weight of their first love—but then, who can? Like Crazy’s perspective is wonderfully sane.

Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is a well-polished cowpat that will confuse and bore those who know nothing about Shakespeare and incense those who know almost anything. It does have the trappings and suits of scholarship. Derek Jacobi starts the movie off in modern Manhattan, striding onto a Broadway stage and declaiming in tones more forceful than those I heard from him last spring at BAM (where his Lear ran the gamut from petulant to dotty) that Shakespeare left not a single manuscript behind, and that the true story of the author of Hamlet is much darker. He is Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who could not, by virtue of his rank, have anything to do with the theater and so handed over his masterworks—many of which were not performed until well after his death—to a boobish actor named Will Shakespeare, who incidentally was the one who stabbed Christopher Marlowe in the eye. Less improbably, De Vere screwed Queen Elizabeth, as well as (accidentally) his own mum.

The script by John Orloff skips back and forth between the aged De Vere (Rhys Ifans) and his younger self (Jamie Campbell Bower), although the actors neither look nor sound like each other and transitions are nonexistent. (The old and young Elizabeth I have an easier time, being played by the mother-daughter tag-team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson.) Ifans is forced into unbecoming poses such as freezing in horror when his puritanical wife discovers him with pen and parchment (“You’re … writing again!”), but it’s always fun to see him affect a grave countenance. I was puzzled, though, by his placid demeanor during the first performance of Hamlet, in which the killing of Polonius comes before “To be or not to be”—but I suppose Emmerich would regard that as an academic quibble. He’s lucky he’s 400 years beyond the scope of Britain’s laws of libel and sedition, or else Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, the Cecils père and fils, as well as Elizabeth I would be giving him a royal escort to the Tower.

Apart from its ineptitude, Anonymous is peculiarly beside the point. Shakespeare’s succession of masterpieces, near masterpieces, and thrilling misses is a miracle no matter who did the actual writing: the actor-manager from Stratford-upon-Avon with the grammar-school education or De Vere, Francis Bacon, the Earl of Derby, or Marlowe after faking his own death. Although the least implausible, the Oxfordian case—initially predicated on the idea that no one so meagerly schooled, untraveled, and unacquainted with court life could possibly have written so discerningly about kings, queens, thanes, and Danes—is so unbuttressed as to be laughable, whereas books like Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World make splendid sense of the Stratford Shakespeare’s religion, politics, and sympathetic imagination. Moreover, Shakespeare spent enough time on and behind the stage to know what plays and what lays—something well beyond the ken of Orloff and Emmerich.

Like Crazy
Directed by Drake Doremus. PG-13.

Anonymous
Directed by Roland Emmerich. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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