Love can be a moment’s madness. In Drake Doremus’ melancholy drama, idealistic English college student Anna (Chalet Girl’s Felicity Jones) foolishly overstays her US visa after falling hard for charming Californian carpenter Jacob (Fright Night’s Anton Yelchin). When they’re separated, with Anna banned from entering America, what follows is an agonising study of a relationship in freefall.
Their initial courtship adeptly captures those intoxicating, butterflies-in-the-tummy moments of first love, all intimate close-ups of reticent half-smiles and hopeful glances. Yet, just as giddy, giggly flirtation gives way to heart-wrenching transatlantic yearning, months, then years parted by red tape sees their wide-eyed romantic innocence slowly disintegrate into awkward, frustrated uncertainty.
There are brief, blissful vacation reunions, but through all the stop-starting, the young lovers discover it’s difficult to simply press pause on life. Throughout, Doremus’ astute mise en scene gradually widens the literal space between the couple, sat separately on public transport, or strolling yards apart following a lover’s tiff, reflecting the growing rift in their hearts.
Time, too, is presented as fleeting, with one impressively edited visual sequence seeing the twosome’s rapturous ‘summer in bed’ pass by in a depressing matter of seconds.
Jones and Yelchin deliver commandingly mature performances, authentically encapsulating the fatigue of their star-crossed union. When Jacob has Anna’s beloved writing chair shipped to London as a surprise, Jones’ muted, half-hearted enthusiasm is so perfectly measured, you can practically see the passion begin to dissipate. Similarly, Yelchin plays wounded very well, his forlorn, puppy dog eyes effectively communicating Jacob’s inner anguish.
Reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s similarly morose Blue Valentine, it is a brutal, affecting watch, though Jacob’s refusal to simply move to London makes Anna’s infatuation difficult to swallow. Although the couple’s blind naïvete may occasionally make you feel like knocking their heads together, this is a sober, bittersweet picture for anyone who’s ever been heartbroken.