I’m at about 10% functionality today, given that I drank 3 French 75s and a bottle of Barolo BEFORE I ate dinner last night, but I’m going to give this writing thing a whirl anyway.
For a long time, I’ve been corresponding with a lovely young lady named Auré. Like many of my friends, we met after she emailed me about the Huffington Post piece I wrote about marriage. Seriously, I found no less than five bosom buddies through the aftermath of the storm that article created. “Do you think it’s creepy that we became friends on the Internet?” she said when we met at the Union Square Christmas market yesterday.
“No,” I assured her. “3 of my 10 best friends have never even heard my speaking voice.”
Whenever Aurelia and I talk, we do so to bemoan the generally crappy state of our dating lives. Like most beautiful, successful, smart young women in New York, she has trouble meeting men who are worth her time. And I in general like to complain, even though Caleb is a good boyfriend for me, and for the first time in my life, I am allowing myself to really be loved.
Our plan was to go see Sleeping Beauty, but after the New York Observer declared that it was a “poor man’s Catherine Breillat,” we decided to skip it. Also, I promised to go see that with my friend Citibank, so I couldn’t have gone without her anyway. Do you see what I mean about the 10% functionality thing? That sentence just took me 3 hours to write.
I’m not sure how I heard about Like Crazy. All I know is that after I saw the trailer, which I watched ten times, in all of its iterations on YouTube, I knew that I would like it.
For Like Crazy seemed to be an exact mirror of my life after college, when I dated a guy with whom I broke up with, no exaggeration, at least 50 times. We started dating freshman year. After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles, and I stayed in New York. For the next four years, we painfully said goodbye to one another, until we were finally able to let go of the idea of what it might have been like if we could really love each other. At that point, we were ready to move on with our lives.
But the movie is not about me, but rather about the romance between Jacob, played by the disarmingly unattractive Anton Yelchin, and Anna, played by the disarmingly gorgeous Felicity Jones. They meet when Anna is still in college in Los Angeles, getting a degree in writing. Jacob is a TA in one of her classes. He’s also a really bad furniture designer, who makes chairs that look like stuff I made with a handsaw in “technology class” in eighth grade.
On their first date, Anna reads Jacob a poem from her notebook, that foreshadows the rest of their relationship. “I thought I understood it. But I didn’t. I knew the smudgeness of it. The eagerness of it. The Idea of it. Of you and me,” she says in her sweet accented tones.
The lines, and the mood of the film that followed it, perfectly captured the disintegration of my own first love. Just like Anna, I was attached to an idea. But in practice, it never manifested fully. Only in moments. Late night phone calls in cabs. Glimpses across crowded parties. Hours spent in beds beside the sea. Walks on the streets of London. The pounding in my chest, the nervousness of stepping off the airplane, the cold tiled floor of a hotel where I waited for him, almost nauseous with anticipation, when he came to meet me in Barcelona.
On screen, it was almost as if Anna and Jacob acted out all of my intensely painful memories, only they did it cinematically, beautifully, without any of the rage.
For a year after meeting, they are blissfully in love. They kiss whenever possible, they drink whiskey, they sleep wrapped in each others arms. Then, Anna has to go back to England because her student visa expires upon graduation. Rather than returning on time, she decides to stay in the spindly embrace of the prematurely balding Jacob, and ends up violating her visa. When she tries to return to the US after a week-long sojourn in London for a wedding a few months later, she is promptly denied entrance at customs, and deported back home.
For the next four years, she tries to get the ban on her visa revoked, to no avail. During that time, her and Jacob make an excruciating attempt to hold on to the love they felt for one another during their one halcyon year. At first, they stay together. Then, realizing how hard it is to maintain a grasp on someone when they’re 9 hours in the future, Jacob decides he wants to be Anna’s friend rather than lover.
Thus, Anna and Jacob begin the slow journey towards becoming unfamiliar to one another. They don’t talk for months, and then in moments of weakness, call each other, begging to be reunited. Over the phone, their voices are choked and desperate.
Jacob goes to London, where he finds a well-adjusted Anna, her hair piled gorgeously on top of her head, slightly changed. Her apartment is her own. She has a successful writing career. Still, she loves him. “It just doesn’t feel like I’m a part of your life, I feel like I’m on vacation,” he tells her, not realizing that their entire relationship was like a vacation, being that it started in college, and never progressed into adulthood.
Jacob returns home, refusing to move to London. Slowly, he starts to ignore Anna’s texts. He starts dating his studio assistant, played by the gorgeous, albeit puffy-faced, Jennifer Lawrence.
One night, after hours of trying to avoid her, he finally gives in, and calls her back, thousands of miles away. She proposes that they get married, and shockingly, he agrees. In a short white dress with spaghetti straps, Anna gives him her fidelity. For a week after the wedding, they are happy like they were that first year in Los Angeles.
But still, even when married, Anna cannot get a visa to return with him to Los Angeles.
The movie then becomes excruciatingly painful. Jacob and Anna try to keep it together. But they drift. Jacob truly falls in love with Jennifer Lawrence, with whom he seems better suited. And Anna, who dates a handsome British man named Simon, never falls out of love with Jacob, despite the sagging under his eyes, despite his lack of talent, despite the fact that he is humorless, despite the fact that he starts to treat her badly.
The movie was written by boys, but the story they tell of a love unraveling is equally weighted from both sides. Jacob withdraws, and Anna cannot let go, which was much what happened with me and my boyfriend, so many years ago.
Right when it seems like there is no hope, four years after she was deported, Anna’s visa finally comes through. By that time, she is living with Simon, and Jacob no longer returns her calls.
Still, she gives up her job, and goes back to him, to the studio where he lived with Jennifer Lawrence. In the final scene, they stand together in the shower, so removed from one another that they can barely touch. They lay their heads against other’s shoulders, and memories of what they were once like together, but no longer can be, flash before their eyes. Then the screen went black.
“I am just completely offended by this fucking emo music,” Aurelia said, as the credits began to roll.
“I’m sick,” I whispered. For me, the movie resounded.
Even if Anna and Jacob stay together in the ether beyond the film, I wanted to tell them they shouldn’t. Their relationship, no matter how hard they fought for it, ended the moment she couldn’t return to him in Los Angeles, and he wouldn’t move with her to London. She wanted to fight for it harder than he did, but I suspect that when she leaves him, as she will, that he will never get over her.
Women bear the emotional burden of a relationship up to a point, and then they move on. Men, who start out by withdrawing, but let go later, and harder.
The movie was incredibly difficult reminder of the agony of first love, of long distance, of relationships that break so many times that they can never be put back together. It’s full of flaws, of course. The music is terrible. There are a number of still shots juxtaposed against each other to denote the passing of time. But the chemistry between Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin is astounding, and the way that they capture the disintegration of first love, of all of the wrong ideas one has about it, is absolutely perfect. I cried the whole time, and so did Aurelia, although she was furious at its denouement.
“I hate both of them,” she said as we wiped our eyes in the bathroom. Beside us, another pair of friends wiped their eyes. “Him especially.”
I couldn’t respond to her, except to smile, because my heart was sick. We said goodbye outside of the theater, and I immediately called Caleb. He didn’t pick up. My hands started shaking. What if he had decided that I was too ridiculous, and wanted to leave me? I let go of my first great love, but I can’t let go of this adult one, at least not yet, and hopefully not ever. So I called him again. And again.
He called me back two minutes later, and I was crying. “Where were you?” I said.
“I was on the toilet,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Gross.”
“Are you ok?”
“I was heartbroken you didn’t pick up. I’m afraid you’re going to break up with me.”
“You’re stuck with me always,” he said.
And although I didn’t stop crying until I tasted the first sweet sip of that first French 75, I felt a lot better knowing that I’ve moved on, with him. My tears weren’t heartbreaking. They were just nostalgic. The movie reminded me of something I once experienced. But when I thought about it, I couldn’t remember what that experience had been like, just that it had happened. My memory of that relationship is like my vision without glasses now. Every month, it gets fuzzier.
Eventually, it will be like a familiar smell that very rarely seeps into the air. When it does, it will bring a strong sense of nostalgia, for something I can’t remember, but know that I once loved. An afternoon. A bed full of laundry. A meal. A kiss. My childhood. It will last for a second, making me feel grateful that I once had such a thing, and then the tingling of it will drift away again into the ether.