Thursday, January 14, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: 500 Days of Summer, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our seventh review - 500 Days of Summer.


Hey Andrew!
It's official. I'm in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.

After being bathed in revisionist history gore with Inglorious Basterds, I am more than ready to move on to modern day Los Angeles and something lighter. 500 Days of Summer is a romance and a comedy. But as the narrator quickly tells us, it is not a love story. Tragedy is also a central theme. So instead of labeling it a RomCom, I’d call it a TrageRcom. Or a ComRomedy. But definitely not a downer!
500 Days of Summer begins at the end of a relationship, doubles back to experience those first amazing stomach butterflies and awkward conversations, and then traverses the relationship highlights in between. Most of the highlights deal with the post-breakup phase. This is the period where the dumpee suffers intolerable depression, goes crazy second guessing himself and in general, more than anything obsesses over every detail of the relationship.
Brad's new movie crush - much cuter than Edward Furlong, no?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a trained architect who has taken the lazy way out and instead works as a writer for a greeting-card company. Zooey Deschanel (or as my wife likes to call her Zooey Douche-bagger) is Summer, a young woman who's just taken a job as an assistant to the head of the company.

Deschanel plays Summer as that hot hipster chick you see at Rainbow Club on Division in Chicago. The kind of girl you look at twice and then keep peering at all night long just to see what she’s doing and to maybe try and figure out what she’s thinking. She is also the kind of girl that is so good looking and stylized that you're led to assume she must be a pretentious bitch. At the start, this is exactly what Tom thinks of Summer. But when she approaches him on the way into the office he quickly realizes this is a cool girl - they like the same music!

What was so magical about 500 Days is its relate-ability; both at the best and worst of times. I felt like I was Tom, or at least we would be friends. I think nearly every guy out there has had his Summer. The girl that you thought was perfect, but for some reason or another she couldn’t feel the same way about you. For me it was Raquel (names have been changed to protect the innocent). She was young, exciting, beautiful and she liked me. But as time moved on the chemistry wore thin. Later in my dating life I would simply move on when things didn’t work, but when I was 20-something I didn’t give up so easily.

While Zooey and Gordon are fantastic, I think more than anything this films success belongs to its writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Funny and thoughtful lines abound, and a quirky black-and-white section and a dance number kept me engaged. OK, maybe I’ve been gushing too much. In a rare move for us, I saw this film first and recommended it to you. So tell me, what did you think of this flick?



Hiya Brad!

Yes, you recommended the film to me, but followed strict guidelines of saying nothing more. I appreciate that. I was already excited to see it, in large part because of Deschanel's presence. I adore her, and have ever since the first time I saw Almost Famous. Hell, her scenes even made Failure to Launch tolerable (well, only when she was onscreen, but that's still Oscar-worthy work right there). The narrator set her up to be some sort of irresistible goddess, but I have to say I found this to be one of her least compelling roles. She just kind of floated through this film, but perhaps that's with good reason. She's not the one in love. She's inherently distant and aloof, something she rarely brings to a role. I take it your wife doesn't share my fondness for Zooey? That's a shame, 'cause she's going to be around for a really long time.

During a trip to Colombia last weekend the topic of "Hipsters" came up. We were trying to explain the concept to some Argentine and Colombian friends. It was not easy, partly because each American had their own slightly different view of what a Hipster actually is. That same claim would apply to the filmmakers, but it's clear that they wanted to embrace their version of the concept. The film spends every second screaming HipsterHipsterHipsterHipster in the most overt ways possible. I mean come on, Ringo Starr? Summer even goes so far as to tell us the only reason she likes him is that nobody else does.

Tom wears Joy Division t-shirts and listens to The Smiths, but also spends time in a tie and sweatervest. He shows up at work with his oversized headphones blatantly on display. His work is at a greeting card company - not exactly Initech. But that's deemed not creative enough of a job by the filmmakers, so he must reach for something more lofty, uhhh.... I know - architecture!
I think I saw this dude get thrown out of the empty bottle for smoking Winstons in the bathroom.

I must tell you that I find it hilarious that you said you might be friends with Tom, because I was all set to mention that you've long had a penchant for Hipster friends. Don't get me wrong, you know I really dig your Hipster friends. They are too cool! But given that background, I can see why you like this movie so much. For me, it was a bit of an overload. The obvious musical cues, fashion, and trips to Ikea simply to make fun of it... I'll put it this way. I knew we were going to hear a song by Feist. I was waiting for it. I just couldn't believe that they actually threw it in during the wedding of a 40-something black couple.

One could argue that though the film is 99.4% pure Hipster, Tom is supposedly only a pseudo-Hipster because he's such a romantic. My only problem with this is that he is so completely removed in every scene with Summer. Sure, she intimidates him, but women don't go for guys that always respond, "I don't know, whatever you want to do" when asked "What do you want to do?" I think many of us aloof pseudo hipsters have learned this the hard way. Then again, perhaps that's the point. He thinks the superficial stuff should have been enough and therefore equal love. That list you read at the outset - does any of it really mean anything? Yes, it does when you're 20. But not at 34...

Given all those complaints, and though this movie doesn't really connect with its own characters, it does an excellent job of showing that some relationships simply aren't meant to be. And sometimes it's just because it's not meant to be for only one person. If you're calling yours Raquel, I'm going to call my Dolores. I'm sure every guy who ever liked the same band as a cute girl has a Dolores.

At its core, I think this movie is really just a gimmick, but an excellent one. It puts the relationship in clear relief in the same way we all do in those miserable days after they end. Despite the light treatment, they find the right tone in the end, and make a movie that's easily relatable. Thank goodness we've moved past this point in life, eh?

I'm curious to hear your reaction to my reaction. I also have a question for you. Is Tom supposed to be cool? Hes clearly cooler than his loser friends, but clearly nowhere near as cool as his 14 year old precocious sister...


Tune in tomorrow for Part II where Brad and Andrew will get a bit chippy as they continue to argue the merits of this TragerCom...

Previous A to Bs:
Inglorious Basterds
Public Enemies
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Star Trek
Terminator 4: Salvation

1 comment:

David said...

Just in time to review the Squeakquel