Greetings again from the darkness. The Sundance Film Festival got it right when it awarded this film its Grand Jury award. This is wonderful independent filmmaking – the kind that draws in our own emotions and makes us feel what the characters feel, while also forcing us to deal with our own memories. If you enjoy fluffy Hollywodd rom-coms, you may not have what it takes to watch this raw “first” love story. I felt tightness in my chest and an aching in my bones … and I am a grumpy old man! 

I have been on the bandwagon for Elizabeth Olsen‘s breakout performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Without hesitation, I will say that Felicity Jones deserves the same accolades. It’s her first US film, but she is flat out spectacular in conveying deep emotional swings. I will see this one again just to watch her every blink and nod. She comes across as a fantastical blend of the Mara sisters – some of Kate’s radiance mixed with Rooney’s deep soul. It is always exciting to see such dramatic new talent at the early stages of their career.

 Writer/director Drake Doremus clearly has a bond to this story as the long term relationship and themes of separation, patience and true love are played with a cutting edge reality that we rarely see on screen. Anna (Jones) falls for classmate Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and we experience the clumsiness and hopeful flirtations of their early dates. The kicker is that Anna’s student visa expires at the end of the semester and she makes the foolish decision to stay in bed with Jacob for the summer. This keeps her from re-entering the US when she tries to return to him.

To really connect with this film, you need to put yourself back in the first love moment or more so, at a time when you experienced a long distance relationship. That excruciating feeling that every moment apart would never end. What had me scratching my head a bit was the fact that Jacob never packed up and headed to London to be with Anna for good. He is a furniture designer who works in a loft in Santa Monica. Thanks to the internet and the fact that people all over the world buy furniture, it seems like the perfect business to run from anywhere … say, London with your soul mate! Made me believe that possibly Jacob wasn’t as gaga as Anna.

 Both of them take on close companions. Jacob’s is played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence (Winters Bone). She is very sweet and clearly loves Jacob, which raised another question for me. What to think of those who can fall deeply for one who is not “all in” for them? Anna moves in with Charlie Bewley who also misreads the buy-in and makes the biggest mistake a guy can make … don’t ask the question if you don’t know the answer.

There are some terrific scenes with Anna’s parents played by Oliver Muirhead and Alex Kingston, both whom you will recognize. Also, Anna’s publisher is played by Finola Hughes and there are a couple of odd scenes between the two so that we understand just how talented Anna is as a writer. The ending is absolutely perfect and the two future mega stars (Jones and Yelchin) capture the moment with precision and heartfelt doubt and wonderment. It’s not the clean ending we Americans have come to expect, but it’s one that loudly announces the arrival of Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin and director Drake Doremus.

 I was lucky enough to attend the opening night in Dallas, and Mr. Doremus (pictured, left) was in attendance for a Q&A. Fully expecting a brooding, beret-wearing film school reject, I was shocked when Doremus proved to be charming, energetic, thoughtful and downright appreciative of comments from the audience. He explained that much of the dialogue was improvised between the actors, and that the film was made for $250,000. If you are unfamiliar with filmmaking, $250,000 is roughly what Tom Cruise gets for a breakfast budget on his films. These points just made me more of a fan of the director and the film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of independent filmmaking OR really talented young actors OR non-traditional love stories OR you understand “smudgeness” as used by Anna in a poem to describe their love

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your romantic movies to follow the fluffy, feel good formula OR your skepticism for soul mates is beyond hope

watch the trailer:

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