Monday, August 31, 2009
500 DAYS OF SUMMER - MY REVIEW
An interesting paradox came up during 500 Days Of Summer, one involving one of the previews I was forced to sit through. It was for a romantic comedy called Love Happens featuring Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston. I didn't think much of the preview until about mid-way through 500 Days Of Summer when I realized that Love Happens and movies of that ilk are dinosaurs slowly being weeded out.
The idea of the incredibly attractive couple who are both lonely (which we don't believe) and have to get over some kind of hurdle, usually fairly easy, and then end up together is passe now. Not just because they're sappy but because who the hell can relate to these people?
500 Days Of Summer feels like a return to 70s golden age Woody Allen back when he was still making important films. Think Annie Hall, think Manhattan or Here's Looking At You Kid. 500 Days Of Summer uses the same sharp script, interpersonal relationships, visual tricks and great acting to tell the story. You're completely engrossed in the story but the filmmakers never let you forget you're watching a movie. It's an odd nod to the old school that also announces a new era in romantic comedies (hopefully).
The story here is basic: boy (Tom Hansen played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt) gets girl (Summer Finn played by Zooey Deschanel), boy loses girl, boy tries to get girl back. The story itself isn't a linear narrative instead told through excerpts from the 500 days. For instance the opening scene is day 290, then it skips to day 1, then day 402 and so on. This isn't just their relationship, it's everything from the first day Tom and Summer see each other on. It sounds like it might get annoying but trust me it works perfectly.
The filmmakers behind 500 Days Of Summer understand completely that this generation is very visually based. Iphones, home computers, blu-ray, high definition, we are nothing if not greedy for visual stimulation. What director Marc Webb does is seamlessly combine the visuals with an intelligent script to give us an example of the Romantic Comedy through the eyes of a group sickened by vapid "teen flicks" and bored by "contemporary adult" romantic comedies.
Even with the visuals and snappy dialog 500 Days Of Summer is a very realistic portrayal of love and relationships. Neither Tom or Summer are sculpted movie gods. Don't get me wrong, they're both attractive people but not in a way we can't identify with. We all know somebody who kind of looks like either of our hero couple and that gets rid of the "nobody looks like that" bullshit factor rather quickly. Both Tom and Summer have good jobs but not perfect jobs, have nice apartments but not perfect apartments. These are young professionals trying to figure it all out with NYC as their backdrop. Having been one of those people I can tell you the script is spot on.
The evolution of both characters and their relationship is filled with twists and turns you don't see coming but at the same time you've seen before in your own life. Summer & Tom are the couple you root for but when they're not around tell your friends you don't see how it's going to work. Some of the scenes hit so close to home I found myself squirming in my seat. The chemistry between Tom & Summer is the glue holding 500 Days together. Whether intimate, awkward, angry or sad, the interplay between the two never seems forced or fake.
I was also impressed that the filmmakers made Summer somebody you spend a great deal of the film going back and forth about. You don't like her right away and at some points of the movie her narcissism and self-involvement make you hate her. As the story unfolds she starts making sense and you like her but then she does something that makes you doubt again.
It's a real risk to run that gamut with a main character because he/she can go so far to one side they can't return. Once a character goes too far either way they become one dimensional which starts sowing the seeds of boredom. Thankfully that doesn't happen here. In fact the peripheral characters have more depth than most main characters in movies today.
500 Days Of Summer also boasts and very insightful soundtrack. Most of these kinds of films slap together pop hits from current hit makers and it's almost always after the fact. Rarely in Romantic Comedies does the music actually push the film along. With 500 Days the music is intrinsic to the characters lives. Tom & Summer's first meeting comes because she overhears him listening to The Smiths and connects with it. During a karaoke scene Tom is singing The Pixies, he's always wearing band shirts, etc.
The music isn't here to set up the boom shot of Summer and Tom looking lovingly at each other it is almost another character in the film. The characters talk about music, refer situations to music, music is as much a part of who they are as their jobs, homes and friends. Not to mention who ever chose the music for 500 Days has taste that rivals the perfection of my own.
If there are any problems with 500 Days it's mainly length. About halfway way through the final third the movie hits a wall and sputters a bit. It felt as if the filmmakers had to try and work out the whole "500 Days" aspect and started running out of ideas. As the film winds down the things happening to Tom get repetitive and you start to fear if the filmmakers don't get on with it they'll destroy a near-perfect movie with a bad final 20 minutes. The end, which isn't exactly happy but is still uplifting, saves the movie from this misstep but you'll definitely know when it comes.
I don't know if 500 Days Of Summer will cause the revolution in romantic comedies I hope it will but if it does the entire idea of a "chick flick" could change drastically. This film doesn't pander to the audience nor does it feed off of some boring fairy tale love story like most of them do.
This is a straight tale about two people and how these 500 days change who they are and how the relate to life and love. Wrapped within this realism is a visual playground that never usurps the movie but rather adorns it. 500 Days Of Summer is a film that reminds us not just why we fall in love but also why we go to the movies.