' Cinema Romantico: 500 Days of Summer

Monday, August 03, 2009

500 Days of Summer

- "I named my cat after Springsteen."
- "What'd you call it?"
- (pause) "Bruce."


I'm leading off with this quote from "500 Days of Summer" to remake a point I've made before and will undoubtedly make again: the chemical equation of certain films allows certain people to react to them more strongly than others. The equation of "500 Days of Summer" allowed for a strong reaction from me. Our lead, Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon Leavitt), is a hopeless romantic who believes he won't be truly happy until he meets "the one", a determination he has made based on sad English pop songs and a misreading of the end of "The Graduate". He works at a job he isn't particular passionate about and didn't mean to end up in but, you know, a guy's gotta pay the bills, or whatever, and so there he is.

But then Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, she of the always ultra quirky, sexy line readings), a woman whose favorite Beatle is Ringo, automatically earning her 10,000 cool points (the film has a great soundtrack but couldn't this revelation have made way for "Act Naturally"?), turns up as the assistant of Tom's boss and love blooms on an elevator when they both realize the other has the same taste in music. (Swoon.) But, before we go any further, allow me to state that "500 Days of Summer" makes it clear from the outset, much like "Annie Hall" (and what romantic comedy anymore doesn't take at least a page or two from "Annie Hall"?), that these two will not end up together.

The movie skips freely around in time, starting with day #488 of the title's 500 days and then jumping back to the beginning and then forward again and then backward again and all over the place. Again, similar to "Annie Hall". Perhaps the title cards weren't necessary. But, c'mon, modern day movie audiences need those cues or else they get "confused". I know it. You know it. Never mind. That's another topic.

The movie's intent with this device to conjure up the feeling we all have when it comes to past relationships. Our memories of them are rarely linear. You remember getting the kiss on the cheek in the parking lot after you drunkenly ate ribs but then that makes you remember the time she blew you off when you were supposed to go to that wine tasting and that makes you remember when you recommended a bottle of wine....but I could do that all day. Tom too often seems to be remembering what he wants to remember. Summer is an easy woman to love and it seems as if she loves him but she seems locked down to the notion of just having a good time and ignoring marriage. Tom wants marriage, or at the very least wants to be able to officially announce he and Summer as being a couple. Why wouldn't she want to take things to that so-called level when everything seems so idyllic?

But was it all idyllic? One character calls him out, telling him something like, When you think about it again, think about it harder, or remember everything. The movie employes other gimmicks too, like a post-coital song & dance and, my favorite, the side-by-side discourse on a man's Expectations of a date and the Reality. What We Want and What Happens. What could be sadder?

"500 Days of Summer" is the debut of Marc Webb and a strong debut it is, though I must observe it could have been much stronger. Summer remains at a distance for much of the film. Partly this is the film's plan. How well does Tom know her? But there is one sequence when she lets him into her world (and, for God's sake, the narrator needed to be cut from this scene - we know what's going on, don't pound us over the head with the hammer!) and couldn't she have let him in just a little bit more. Two deep and complex leads as opposed to one always makes for a richer experience. The supporting characters are also given the shaft. Tom has the requisite two best friends who both seemed to have more life beating in them then what is offered and he also gets the obligatory advice-giver in the form of his younger sister but she exists solely to give advice and for no other reason. (Remember Lili Taylor from "Say Anything"? She gave advice and had her own crisis with Joe.)

But then no movie is perfect (except for "Chinatown") and "500 Days of Summer" doesn't just get the job done but gets it done in an above average way. It's fun to watch. You will laugh and smile and remember some of the people you have loved in your own life. You will leave the theater in a good mood.

The last line? The last line is kinda corny, sure, but you know what? If you don't like it, you weren't supposed to like it anyway. You need a different chemical equation.

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