Sunday, August 9, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

"(500) Days of Summer" is a surprisingly traditional mainstream comedy for all the nonlinear lengths it goes to to try to clear a place itself in our minds. It fails at being much more than a off-key bunch of episodes grouped together by a parenthetic clock. Critics acknowledge its point is that a relationship is thought of afterwards by the participants in random memories than from beginning to end. But they are forgetting something. There was a movie five years ago that is similar in this way, which was much better. It's Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," scripted by the wonderful Charlie Kaufman, that was about recollection as much as this film. What was different was that the film was well-executed, with scenes in between that made the film a little better than just a vehicle for a gimmick. "A vehicle for a gimmick." Sounds just like "(500) Days of Summer" to me.

The film chronicles a relationship that you can see as doomed from the beginning, since the title references a period of 1 year and 135 days as opposed to a lifetime. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the "boy" in "boy meets girl" and he believes in a little thing called love. Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), the "girl," thinks otherwise. She wants to have fun in L.A., and "not be tied down by a man". I am either directly quoting, paraphrasing, or just referencing (I'm not sure which) Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," where there is the debate of lightness vs. weight (there is also a scene about discovering women that this film made me recall). The film's characters debate the same thing, while the film is more light than substantial.

Anyways, both of these (archetypal) "twentysomethings" work at a greeting card company, where Summer is a secretary and Tom is the guy who can come up with phrases and who is a lot better than everyone else. My question is: why are unoriginal people working at a company where it's a good idea to have some vibrancy? I guess that's why there's an abundance of mediocre cards out there. Tom dreams of becoming an architect and you can probably guess whether by the time the credits roll he gets to do he wants. That's the kind of movie this: caving in to the predictable.

Scott Neustadler and Michael H. Weber, the writers of the film (who also worked on "The Pink Panther 2" together), remarkably pen an number of cliches into a film that is supposed to be the "anti-love-story." They inject little bits of oddity (like how Belle and Sebastian's sales skyrocketed after Summer mentioned them in her high school yearbook), but there's also what Tom's next girlfriend is named, how the film ends, and the random, juvenile scene involving human anatomy that rain on director Marc Webb's sunny day. There's also a weak supporting cast of dude friends like Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler, who predictably don't know the first thing really about a serious relationship and yet offer a lot of advice (like Ebert, Lisa Schwarzbaum, et al. said about the guys in "The 40-Year Old Virgin"). Another lukewarm performance is delivered by Chloe Moretz as Tom's younger sister by a decade or so who knows more about love than he does. She also says something about remembering the days of Summer that sounds very similar to something from "Eternal Sunshine." There is also a shot, one of the two leads walking through a market, that makes me think back on the other film, and how it was a success. "(500) Days of Summer" is not one. If you claim to make a hyperkinetic, modern take on love, follow through. Don't go all routine on us all. C


Anonymous said...

when they walk into her apartment there is a black hat with a green apple on her coffee table, which is actually the cover art for Milan Kundera's book.

macto said...

There are several references to Kundera. Tomas (Tom) is the protagonist of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and I believe the narration about coincidence on day 500 is directly quoted from the book.

That said, I think the movie was much better than your review makes it out to be. The storyline, cinematography and soundtrack combined to capture romance and melancholy in a way I've rarely encountered. (Maybe even better than Kundera)

Nick Duval said...

Have you seen Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"? Practically the same sort of gimmicky thing, except that movie is (while slightly adolescent) I think more interesting. If you haven't, then I can see why this film gave you such an opinion.