A blog about movies and filmmaking.

A story about love, that isn’t a love story

In romance on August 1, 2009 at 10:42 pm

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER starts with a disclaimer, along the lines of “all characters in this story are fictional and aren’t meant to represent any real person….Especially, Jenny Beckman….Bitch.” And from there we’re given an opening narration that takes us right into the movie, with the final warning, “This is not a love story”.

All of that build up for a romantic comedy? Well, not exactly, I’d say this is right in line with anti-romantic comedies like HIGH FIDELITY…and, well, that’s the only example I have. This movie really captured, I hesitate to say heart, so we’ll go with “perspective on all things ‘love’ related”. You have a character who falls madly – insanely, maybe  even – in love with a woman upon first seeing her. Then we have a woman who has long ago turned off the idea that love is something real and relationships are nothing more than, basically “friends with benefits” types of situations.

The schtick of the movie is that it’s non-linear. I think that if we had 500 DAYS OF SUMMER from beginning to end, it wouldn’t really be that special of a movie. It is in fact the way that the movie can jump between Day 30 and Day 301, just in a cut from a happy-go-lucky character getting into an elevator and a miserable, disheveled one getting out. There’s a wonderful scene at the beginning of the movie, where Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are in IKEA, and he’s doing this thing where he turns a faucet on, and says, “Our sink is broken.” Then continues to try every faucet in the display, saying, “all of our faucets are broken,” to which Summer kind of just walks away. So, we think, “ok, old joke that she doesn’t find funny anymore”, but later in the movie we see the scene from earlier in the relationship, where it’s her that starts this little game… Along with the other humorous shenanigans you do on a first time “couples” trip to IKEA.

There are also some fun stylistic flourishes that director, Marc Webb, pulls out; like, a musical number (besides the number of karaoke scenes), where Tom is walking through the streets of LA and people get behind him and they all dance and everyone is high-fiving him. Or, more impressively, and also heart-breakingly, is the scene that plays out in split-frame; one being Tom’s expectations and one being reality. Naturally, they don’t meet, too often, and never to the same degree. And it’s these types of things that really drew me in and made me empathize – I have to say – with both characters. To be honest, I’ve been through a number of experiences that have left me pretty jaded on the reality of love. There’s broken marriages (not mine), there’s broken hearts and people not being who they seemed (mine) and of course, that eventual feeling of when the “magic” is gone, and there’s no more “happily ever after”, just this other person you have to deal with and see every day. But, then there’s the side of me that meets – or sometimes even sees – an interesting person, and I can imagine being with them for a long time (I can’t say forever), and all the fun, happy things we could do together (not just sex). So, it’s having this cynically, romantic heart that really sucked me in, and I can’t imagine being the only one that feels this way.

The movie is pretty smart and funny as well as being emotional; Tom works at a greeting card company – which is funny in itself, along with being kind of sad. And he has this great line of, “I didn’t want to do something as disposable as make a building; so I wrote greeting cards, which last forever.” And then there’s the lower brow stuff, like repeatedly and incrementally getting louder yelling “Penis” in a park. We are also treated to one of those teenagers who are wiser than their years, and are introduced to the eleven year old sister of Tom’s, Rachel (played by Chloe Moretz), in a scene sort of reminiscent to Harvey Keitel’s introduction in PULP FICTION.

Going from Chloe, we have a number of great performances in this movie. Starting with Tom’s pals, McKenzie and Paul – played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler, respectively – who guide and try to help Tom cope with his various forms of infatuation, love and despair. McKenzie works with Tom and has some great moments at work related functions – like aforementioned karaoke. Paul, seems to just be another friend, who in one scene pops in to question whether tom “banged” Summer yet, then has an interesting back and forth about a number of “jobs”. At the end, they’re both questioned – as are a couple of the other supporting characters – about love, and Paul gives a very nice speech about his girlfriend.

Then there’s Tom’s boss, Mr. Vance – who actually employs Summer as his assistant, hence leading to said meeting – played by Clark Gregg, who recently wrote and directed the Chuck Palanhiuk adaptation, CHOKE – and he gets a couple of great moments, like suggesting that Tom use his broken heart and miserable existence to write bereavement greeting cards.

Then there are the two leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really a rising star, who so far has managed to mainly stay in lower-profile, indy movies; and the random occurrence in a mainstream role, like as a reporter in MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA and in the upcoming GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, as none other than Cobra Commander, himself. But, it’s been his roles in movies like BRICK and THE LOOKOUT, that have really gotten my attention. Of course in both of those movies he has a stylistic attribute that keeps him from being a “conventional” character; speaking in a clipped, noirish dialogue in BRICK, and having a physical/mental handicap in THE LOOKOUT. So, it is kind of odd to see him playing a normalish person, but he manages it and is able to fully flesh out and allow us to see inside his mind – even if it’s not all realistic – and the anguish that he goes through.

Zooey Deschanel, as Summer, is I have to say, kind of staying within the mold of characters that I’ve come to expect from her – and was such a strange departure from in THE HAPPENING, which is the only time that movie will ever be mentioned on this blog. A head-strong, independent woman who seems just as content to be on her own, and to only take up with someone in the way that a cat does. And of course, this is what drives most normal men, crazy about her (in a good way). It’s wonderful how this movie is both a love letter to Zooey, as much as a diatribe on why she sucks. We see the same scene replayed twice, once describing how wonderful her laugh is, and how Tom loves her knees and the way she licks her lips before talking; and then later he says he hates her laugh, her knobby knees and the way she smacks her gums together. But, I think that in a way, Summer is the more normal of the two main characters. From a certain perspective, she can be seen as a villain, or a bitch; but in reality – and as mentioned by a character at one point – she was upfront with this guy from the beginning, and there were enough things about him that made her not “fall in love with him” and I think everyone’s gone through that.

This being Marc Webb’s first feature, is pretty astonishing. It’s put together very well – and part of that probably has to do with what seems like was a pretty strong screenplay – by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber – and none of the extreme, or exaggerated moments seem false. In fact, just about the only thing that I have to complain about is that I’m almost positive that we did in fact not get to see a peek into all 500 days! But, then the ending of the movie gives us the whimsical cap that we needed – and pretty much have to expect coming – with Tom at a job interview for an architectural firm.

Great movie, and one of the few romantic, something-or-other’s, that will be on my DVD shelf.

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