I wanted to love this movie more than I did.
I’d been entranced by the trailer, which (aside from a brief bit of awkward plot summarization in the middle) is an entrancing bit of earnest indie sadness, propelled by the two leads’ mostly improvised dialogue.
I got my hopes too high. Seeing the movie was an adventure in mild disappointment. Because, for the most part, the movie works. The photography is naturalistic and simple,
the story refreshingly small. It’s a relationship split by the chasm of an ocean, but the divide never feels that wide, it lacks the sweeping scope of the bigger-than-life love stories Hollywood’s trying to sell us on. It’s no Cold Mountain, nor An Affair To Remember. It’s not even Sleepless In Seattle. It’s just two young college graduates, ignoring their own good sense and the data fees for international texting to try to make a relationship work. Their bullheaded certainty that their love can bear the strain of distance and the U.S. immigration system (as if anything could) could melt a moderately cold heart. And when the reality of their lives slowly crumples the foundation of that love, it’s hard not feel the pain of it almost as deeply as they do, even if you saw the knife coming in well before they did.
I’ve always liked Anton Yelchin, and he’s well cast here – he’s so open and likable and easy to bruise. But Felicity Jones, the then-unknown cast in the lead opposite him, is a revelation. She’s garnered festival acting awards right and left since the movie’s release, and all of them deserved. From the opening frame, she is so blindly, wholeheartedly in love, a shaking doll of porcelain emotions. She chips and falls apart, then pulls herself together, only to collapse again. This movie was too small to garner any Oscar love, but I’ll guarantee that we’ll be seeing her name bandied about in that conversation in years to come.
But how small a movie is too small? Our leads fall in love, are separated by distance, develop other relationships that don’t work out, and struggle to decide whether they should be together or not. And while I’m invested enough to follow along, I’d prefer that they maybe did something else interesting with their time while I was watching. But instead they sit and mope, have dull conversations with their parents, build hipster chairs and write unseen blurbs for fashion magazines. I was bored silly by Cold Mountain, and at least in that movie, Jude Law spends a lot of his time getting shot at.
The problem with realism, of course, is the banality of it. The second ends up feeling a bit like watching an artfully shot version of my own life, though I (unfortunately) don’t have Jennifer Lawrence as my live-in girlfriend. I feel for these two, but I’ve got my own problems. If I want to spend two hours watching young people stare glumly at their phones, I’ll just go to the mall.