Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2011, Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy is the story of a transatlantic love affair that falls foul of the visa regulations. It doesn’t pay to get on the wrong side of US Immigration — even when you’re as young, cute and mutually infatuated as Jacob and Anna.

Like Crazy begins in an LA classroom, when British student Anna (Felicity Jones) takes a fancy to curly-haired Jacob (Anton Yelchin). She’s an aspiring writer and he’s a budding furniture designer. In a pleasingly old-fashioned touch, she declares her feelings in a long, heartfelt note left on his car windscreen. In no time at all they’re sharing a bed and a love of Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Unable to bear the thought of returning to London alone, Anna stays on in LA after her student visa expires. Rather than go for the usual musical montage here, Doremus conveys their summer idyll as a series of snapshots of the couple lying in bed. But when Anna is denied entry back into the US that impulsive decision casts a shadow over their relationship and the rest of the movie.

The opening of Doremus’s film brilliantly captures the heady delights of an intellectual as well as physical connection. These crazy kids really do seem like soul mates. He makes her a gift of his first chair; she presents him with a scrapbook of their relationship. But when they’re forced apart and those companionable silences give way to sulking and bickering, they become less interesting and so does the film.

Yelchin (Star Trek‘s Chekov) and Jones (Cemetery Junction) are both excellent at conveying the heartbreak of a long-distance relationship in which an unanswered text can feel like crushing rejection. There are moments when Yelchin’s fresh-faced Jacob appears to have aged 10 years, so wrung-out is he by the strain of being apart. It’s the conviction of those performances that carries you through a familiar tale of passion tested by distance, time and other people.

Anna and Jacob are good-looking people pursuing enviable careers in publishing and furniture design. But for a couple in an indie romance they also prove to be bland rather than edgy. That visa violation is the only reckless behaviour you’ll see here. It’s a weakness in a film that doesn’t make room for any substantial supporting roles.

Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead have a few lively moments as Anna’s scotch-loving and refreshingly down-to-earth parents. But they’re kept largely in the background, so if there is a big family row over Anna’s immigration status we don’t get to see it. Jennifer Lawrence and Charlie Bewley are used mainly as window dressing, playing the alternative love interests for our star-crossed pair.

In its editing and direction Like Crazy tries to inject an element of freshness – even intrigue – into the passing of months and years. A time-lapse sequence at Heathrow airport shows a forlorn Anna marooned in a sea of other passengers, as another six months of waiting and hoping go by. When Bewley’s Simon appears in Anna’s apartment it’s filmed in such an oblique way that you’re not sure whether it’s still Jacob sitting forlornly in that armchair. We’re left to fill in the gaps.

I can see why the voters at Sundance handed out gongs to this film and to Felicity Jones’s intelligent and well-judged performance. For me, though, Doremus’s approach didn’t quite fulfil the promise of the opening scenes. So I’d put this one down as a passing infatuation rather than a timeless romance.

(Like Crazy is released in UK cinemas on 27 January 2012.)

First published as part of Sound on Sight’s coverage of the 2011 BFI London Film Festival. Click here to see my other reviews.