"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Some documentaries are about penguins, some are about greenhouse gases, some are about health insurance and some are about history or politics or foreign cultures. Then there are the small-scale yarns that happened right down the street from you, the stories that are at once too bizarre to believe and yet, for that very reason, are stories whose details you want to swallow by the fistful. Whether these films satisfy depends in large part on how successful they are at explaining just how it all could have happened.
“Crazy Love” is that kind of movie, and one that makes pretty good use of its remarkable and, yes, unbelievable story. Very little of that story is wasted, quite a lot scrutinized, but the bad news is that very little of that scrutiny will come close to satisfying your curiosity. Little of this story makes sense, and “Crazy Love” doesn’t press hard enough on the only question that matters: Why?
The idea is pitched as a love story, but it quickly descends into a cautionary tale of obsession and self-destruction. It’s the story of Burt Pugach, a young attorney in 1950s New York who falls for a girl named Linda, whom he courts and woos and promises the moon ... until he’s forced to admit that he’s married. Even worse? His wife will not grant him a divorce. Burt tries every lie and deceit he can muster to keep Linda around, but she finally gives Burt the boot and falls for another man.
Mired in his own paranoia and failure, Burt responds as any reasonable ex-boyfriend would: He stalks her, threatens her, and finally pays a couple of guys to burn her face with lye. A ring of the doorbell, a flick of the arm, and Linda is blinded and disfigured for life. Burt is ultimately convicted of the crime, of course, and spends nearly two decades in prison for it.
But then he gets out. And he starts pleading with her. And then — and this is the reason we’re talking about this movie now — she actually takes him back. She marries him. Why?
Answering that is, of course, why you’d want to buy a ticket, but it’s at precisely this moment that director Dan Klores hits the gas. Up to this point he’s taken his time building the suspense and letting the characters take on their own lives, but once Pugach is out of prison, the story devolves into not much more than a simple recitation of the facts: Burt gets out, friends set up a meeting between the two of them, she agrees to take him back.
Linda’s reasons seem pretty clear, but you’ll have to do your own amateur psychoanalysis to get them, as Klores has no interest in pressing her for the real answers. She professes love and forgiveness for what Pugach did, and Klores almost appears to be willing to believe her — perhaps because if she’s telling the truth, then this really is a crazy love story after all. But from this point on Linda’s portrayal takes on a breezy and pugnacious I’ll-stand-by-you two-dimensionality, and I’m not sure the film should get a pass on that point just because it’s a true story. There’s more going on here, something rooted in her psychology and the neighborhood culture, and Klores has missed the opportunity to find it.
It’s the film’s only major weakness, and the story itself is otherwise such a well-directed, well-edited popcorn-gobbler that you’ll have zero problems staying in your seat. It’s the sort of story you’ll be eager to bring up at parties, but when they ask you that all-important question — why — you’ll shrug, much as “Crazy Love” does.
Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!