Wednesday, August 19, 2009

#137: (500) Days of Summer


(500) Days of Summer
Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Directed by Mark Webb
Released September 7, 2009 (UK)

I'm sad to say that, considering my near love for lead actors Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer (I will be dispensing of the parenthetical after this mention) has turned out to be just a little less than the sum of its parts.

It's not that I don't appreciate the fact that director Mark Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Mike Weber at least tried to bring us a love story (or, a story about love) in a fresh way. There are some really fantastic moments of whimsy, like an out-of-the-blue dance number set to a Hall & Oates song or a brief black & white homage to European cinema.

Unfortunately, these little scenes serve to highlight the fact that the filmmakers were capable of doing so much more, of having much more fun, of being so much more creative, than what we're left with for the rest of the movie. For every truly moving and interesting segment (like the split screen presentation of how Gordon-Levitt's Tom hopes a dinner party will turn out, juxtaposed against the images of how it actually turns out), there are pat, conventional ideas like the karaoke scenes or the not-so-clever observations about the sentiments behind greeting cards.

I read a review of this over at IMDB which said Days was "one hundred times more authentic than the usual romantic comedy fare churned out by Hollywood." Problem is, this isn't true. I just don't understand where this idea of authenticity is coming from. Is it because the soundtrack features The Smiths instead of Carrie Underwood? If you've seen the movie, think about that awful ending and try to tell yourself that it would seem out of place if Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson were the woman sitting on that couch.

Sometimes I worry the indie crowd is too easily swayed by something that, metaphorically, is wearing the same t-shirt that they wear. I have been in far too many heated arguments about why I think movies like Juno or Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist suck despite the fact that their characters may like what I like. (To put it more succinctly, if Juno was a kitten, I'd put it in a burlap sack and drown it in a fucking river.)

There's a line in the movie that, while directed at Gordon-Levitt's character and his seemingly instant affection for the titular Summer, perfectly sums up my feelings about these kinds of movies:

"Just because she's likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate."

While I might appreciate the fact that I get to hear a montage set to the sounds of a Band of Horses song instead of a Nickelback fart, I'm still not going to be an easy lay. These things -- songs, images, pop culture references -- are supposed to accentuate a film, not define its personality.

These kinds of cues are really just a product of lazy writing. Why explain a certain character's background or worldview when all you have to say is, "He loves Joy Division" and your hip little audience will know exactly what you mean? And if they don't know about a certain band and therefore don't understand your shorthand, well, fuck them for not being cool. As a huge fan of The Shins, I can't tell you how embarrassed I was by the "The Shins will save your life" scene in the awful Garden State. Say what you will about typical populist Hollywood romantic comedies, but at least you can't accuse them of being elitist.

Another unique but not necessarily enjoyable quirk about 500 Days of Summer is the fact that the relationship presented in the movie is a story told in an episodic, out of order fashion. We learn from the beginning that this relationship is doomed to fail, and then explore the chronology to find the good and the bad. I found myself wondering if, without the gimmick of telling this story out of order, this movie would be a crushing bore. By cutting it into bite-sized pieces, Webb adds a little chaos into what would be a somewhat predictable bummer of a story. There are a few moments that are served well by this kind of editing, most explicitly the opening scene from Day 488 of their relationship which shows Tom holding Summer's hand as she wears a wedding ring.

Beyond those few scenes and the likable aforementioned moments of whimsy, the most enjoyable thing about Summer is the undeniable chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel. Levitt's performance is especially affecting, as he is asked to cover the gamut of human emotions throughout the movie. He and Deschanel could have been just as satisfying reading the phone book to each other, as proven in this video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here," a song from Deschanel's collaboration with musician M. Ward. The three minutes in this video are more intoxicating than any moment in the movie:

For more on (500) Days of Summer:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Check out movie clips, bloggage and more at the official movie site.

The trailer:

1 comment:

Olivia said...

Great review. I couldn't agree more. Had potential (that split screen bit was heartbreaking)but fell flat (not to mention that ridiculous ending).