500 Days of Summer Reviews
As the entirety of subversive romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" is told in flashback, kicking off at the tail end of a failed romance, it would perhaps prefer to focus on the finer feelings of its central doomed relationship to its slow burns of heartbreak. But because it's eerily close in its resembling to one's memory bank - it tells of the five-hundred day long relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the eponymous Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in a non-linear style that jumps back and forth between seemingly unrelated days (from Day 2 to Day 250, for example) - there's never a moment not shaded by longing bittersweetness, by empathetic relatability.
Because we've all had relationships like the one spotlighted in "(500) Days of Summer." An underdog in a genre that takes a liking to perfect matches and champions the unrealistic ideology that is the soulmate, in place is the kind of unbalanced courtship wherein one party is deeply in love while the other is consistently unsure of their true emotions and eventually becomes a heartbreaker.
The looming relational train wreck, immediately (and bitterly) is autobiographically revealed at the film's opening, but even without it would we be easily equipped to tell that Tom and Summer's love is distinctly one-sided - Tom would kill for the titular, quirky brunette beauty without hesitation, whereas Summer, despite obviously caring a great deal for the beau she does, in her defense, declare that she doesn't much want to begin with, isn't so sure she can commit to making such declarations surrounding the opposite party anyway.
And yet the tragicomic trappings of "(500) Days of Summer" arguably make it more memorable a romantic comedy. How energizing it is to have a genre gem in which the leading couple isn't actually made for each other, in which happy endings aren't so certain in their happily ever after positioning, in which the male hero's more than an idealistic pile of charm and in which the female of interest has more to worry about than her romantic life.
The screenplay, by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is appealingly offbeat, packed with charismatic artistic detours that include a musical sequence and a talking head style, black-and-white documentary imitating confessional. The direction, by Marc Webb, enchants without running into schmaltz. Levitt is humanely congenial, Deschanel lovable if damaged.
But by "(500) Days of Summer's" end are we, at odds with its mostly impeccable technical and artistic risks, left feeling as though it could be something more than it is. Pestering me is the notion that we could have been presented with a primary cinematic romance that didn't so often take on the tone of lovestruck boy running after girl who doesn't like him all that much (Summer's various states of disregarding paired with her brushes with ingenuity and authenticity make her a sometimes difficult character to understand - though I suppose that could be precisely the point). Badgering me is the idea that the characterizing of the beginning and ending of Tom and Summer's relationship is so strong that the juice coming in the middle almost seems nonexistent (which is, therefore, a detrimental setback). Still, the movie's beautifully nonconforming and oftentimes categorically superior - it's genre fodder a cut above from its formula driven peers.
It gives an honest and sincere view on the complicated process of falling in love with somebody, helped by the innate charisma of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.
The movie is presented in a creative, non-linear fashion taking the viewer back and forth through the 500 days that Tom experienced with Summer, culminating in the 500th day, which brought the entire movie full circle. The ending scene is ONE OF THE BEST of all-time and truly presents the message of the movie: that although a relationship you were once in, which ended abruptly and hurt you, but brought you so many happy memories, dwelling on what once was will only hurt and cut you deeper and prevent you from seeing what new memories and opportunities lay right in front of you.
Sure enough, I find a brutal and honest portrayal of the lessons of love and heartbreak-- completely demolished by schizophrenic editing, smug "wink-wink" self-awareness, and a nonsensical narrative from a production team that doesn't trust its concept enough to let it play out naturally and chronologically. Instead, all of the good moments are lead into and interspersed with obnoxious art-house flourishes, like voice-overs, on-screen clocks and gayish musical cues. Some of the soundtrack choices are interesting, but who cares? I came to see a movie, not a music-video. It reminds me of that scene at the beginning of Airplane II where Ted Striker is breaking out of a mental hospital and one of the searchlights stops on Jack Jones singing lounge music in the courtyard. Does there really need to be musical commentary in the background? As much as I admire Regina Spektor's vocal creativity, most of the soundtrack sounded like a 9-11 dispatch of her being assaulted in her home.
Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel are clever and subtle, as usual, but their thespian spirits are wasted on characters with no real motivation or appeal, unless you consider every date-movie cliche of the last twenty years in one package to be a reasonable form of art. There is an intelligent message here, but it barely survives crammed between the drudgery of the time-jumping numbers-screen that throws us jarringly back and forth with little warning, and stock "buddy" characters that punctuate moments of perfect subtlety with, essentially, burp and fart jokes, ruining any sort of serious cinematic immersion. Are we really expected to know where we are in the story based on a non-linear and arbitrary selection of days, or even care?
Most of the scenes are too short to allow the dialogue to build in any meaningful way, or express the character's personalities, leaving both factors unremarkable. I didn't buy a 12 year old giving Tom complicated, experience-driven relationship advice. I also didn't buy the intrusive, "meanwhile, in the lair of the super-villain" voice-over narrations, squirting exposition in my ear at inappropriate times. And what's with these two? The narrator tells us that Tom's skewed view of love comes from "a fatal misunderstanding of the movie 'The Graduate' as a child". First, as a rule, never mention better movies than your movie in your movie. Secondly, what if I've never seen 'The Graduate'? I'm shit out of luck? Tom writes greeting cards for a living and can't figure out how to ask Summer on a date. Greeting cards exist for the soul purpose of getting people laid. See the dissonance here? For that matter, why does he even bother with Summer? She's a brat, and a nympho, and the moment Tom learns about her past "experience", he should have been prepared for disappointment.
This movie doesn't earn the right to tell its story out of order. To do so, the story needs to be something profound and original and benefiting. As it stands it's just a distraction from the lack of a concrete topic, and the shuffling of time is used here as a cheap mechanic for the film to set up a series of contrived "reveals" to flatter us with flashy cleverness. "Look over here!" "Now look over here!" The very first one of these oh YOU moments involves shocking us with the fact that the girl of Tom's dreams is named-- get this-- Summer. Get it? It's the name of the movie! Now the word "summer" means TWO things!
What a rug-puller!
So a few diamonds form as this brownie bakes in the oven. A scene involving Tom and Summer skipping through an IKEA store complaining that "all the sinks are broken" is particularly hilarious. When Tom finally makes headway with Summer, he struts out into the street in front of her building like Fred Astaire as various passerby break into spontaneous song and dance. Tom's meltdown in the boardroom is poignant and powerful. The film delicately handles the horrible "catch-22" of relationships: it's not easy being honest with someone you really care about, for fear of losing the tenuous bond you share. The final sequence between the two lovers, set in an important park with an important view, is profound and bitter in its pitiless clarification of broken love, even if it is the love between retards. Summer's explanation for her betrayal doesn't really clarify anything (maybe that we gave women the vote so that they could "date for dinner") but it does showcases the profound effect the two had on each other. Fate, as it adheres to cause and effect, has a brutal way of wearing down the romantic soul with cruel reality.
Every other moment in the movie does everything it can to sabotage our connection to the mise-en-scene. The lessons learned by the two leads and the way they learn them is the only strong point of the film. It's buried in a package that does an honest message no service. Instead, in its desperate plea to be relatable, it alienates us with its new-aged hipster bullshit, then forces us to re-break our own mended hearts and look inside for a fortune cookie. Thanks, dicks. All of this sentimental gunk is muddled in the drudgery of the film's stupid way of storytelling, so if you have any life experience of your own good luck getting anything out of 500 Days of Summer except maybe a spontaneous hangover.
You know that episode of Family Guy where Peter tapes over Citizen Kane with "It's his sled. From when he was a child. There, I just saved you three hours." That's what I would do to this film, if I cared enough to look back.
Original rating: 10-6-2010 (8/10).
"Surprisingly original, refreshingly offbeat but charming romantic comedy (that's actually funny btw), although the narrator claims it isn't a love story in the first 5 minutes."