Lara’s Solo Review of (500) Days of Summer

17 Aug

Boy meets Girl. Boy gets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy gets over Girl. Thus is the plot of (500) Days of Summer, an unconventional romantic comedy about finding and losing love. What’s so “unconventional” about it? Let me enlighten you.

— The non-chronological plot. The film opens on the 488th day of Summer and Tom’s relationship and from there jumps all over the timeline of their relationship, introducing each scene with which of the 500 days it is. While not having the same significance or shock value as a movie using similar methods like Memento, the disorganized format works for (500) Days of Summer because it is the story of a man looking back on his relationship with a girl he loved, and memories have no order.

— The Indie Thing. I had my doubts going into this film. I was afraid it would be a film that relied on References to Cool Bands, Quick Witty Banter, Hand-Sketched Fonts, and Scenes of Thrift Store Furnished Apartments. But when I sat down in the theater I tried to push all of these thoughts from my mind, wondering if the film would work if I replaced “indie” references with mainstream references. So throughout the movie I did this. I made a sort of allusion machine and this is how it all came out :

OBSCURE”                                      “POPULAR

Ingmar Bergman                           Roland Emmerich

Feist                                                 Rihanna

Architecture of Happiness         The DaVinci Code

(Get the idea? You can try it at home!)

But the indie-translation machine was not necessary. While all of the above mentioned cringe-factors were indeed in the film, there was a very important piece of dialogue that made my dwelling on cool bands irrelevant. Without giving any major plot points away, in this scene Summer (Zooey Deschanel) sits at a bar with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who scrutinizes a nearby super blonde, fake-tanned woman and verbalizes his disgust at women who present themselves in such a way. Expecting to hear similar criticism, Tom is shocked when Summer replies with, “Some people like it.” She reprimands him for being so quick to judge others, defending the interests of the tribal-tatoo’d woman, even though they are vastly different from her own. Just as the audience is discovering this shallow behavior in Tom, I became unnerved at my own anti-indie snobbery. Touché, Marc Webb.

— The “story-telling” motif. (500) Days of Summer has a narrator. Narration is a tricky thing. It can be a brilliant technique used to push the story forward (i.e. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) or it can be a domineering presence placed in awkwardly as an attempt to convey what the actors clearly cannot (i.e. Shopgirl). While it is not a necessary tool in telling the story, the narration in (500) Days of Summer works because it is Tom’s re-telling and dramatization of the history of his and Summer’s relationship. And I know when I recount memories in my head they usually have a narrator. Though I aim a little higher and have Morgan Freeman as my anecdotalist. But I am getting off the point. The point is that Tom’s melodramatic musings allow for an escape from the overdone approaches to the romantic comedy.

So now, reader, you are likely thinking that this sounds like The Perfect Off-Beat Romantic Comedy. Not so. Though there are many aspects that set this film apart from others in its genre, there are still some unfortunate signs of the rom-com:

–The diverse, quirky friends. Tom has a super clichéd, wise-beyond-her-years sister who tells him how it is and makes more sexual references than you would think could come out of a 12 year-old. Ha! How quirky. Tom also has foils for best friends: one who has been with his girlfriend since elementary school and one who harps on getting laid by several girls and sadly realizes at the end that he has never had a real relationship. Need I say more?

–The morning after scene. I’m sorry, but has anyone out there not seen the morning-after-getting-sex-happy-go-lucky-guy-walking-down-the-street-smiling-at-people scene? Because I certainly have. Numerous times. And (500) Days of Summer‘s take on this overdone sequence is even more over the top and embarrassing than usual. When watching it I felt the same humiliation for the actors and everyone in the audience as I did during the Peter Parker turning emo progression in Spider-Man 3. And the bar dance scene in Spider-Man 3. Okay, basically I felt the same as I did through the entirety of Spider-Man 3. And that’s not a good thing.

–The main girl who you can’t stand. Romantic comedy writers constantly create female characters who are independent, uptight, and eccentric. It is a tried formula for a girl no one would ever be able to stand in real life. Summer never wants to put a “label” on things as Tom does, she likes having fun and he likes stability. This double-standard is prevalent in romantic comedies. Were the roles reversed and the man was the non-committal player in the relationship, the film would be completely unacceptable.

–The mundane thing that is twisted to be a metaphor for a relationship during an epiphany. Tom works at a greeting card company. I will say no more so as not to give any spoilers.

(500) Days of Summer is not terrible nor is it brilliant. It’s neither hilarious nor heart-breaking. It is entertaining. It gives a new perspective on a traditional story. If you’re in the mood to see something in the theater and there’s nothing exciting playing, go see it. Otherwise wait until you can Netflix it.

fighting the temptation to boycott The Smiths,

Lara

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2 Responses to “Lara’s Solo Review of (500) Days of Summer”

  1. Chris Berry August 17, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

    Really enjoying the blog. Insightful review.

    I must admit, however, if a film mentioned Feist or featured her music, I would be forced to love the movie in spite of the film itself. I suppose the indie-translator might be helpful for me.

  2. Canada Chris September 23, 2009 at 3:25 am #

    Man, I just saw this flick tonight. No offense, but I think it’s a much better film than you give it credit for. Having said that, it’s definitely a flick made for dudes. Sensitive, artsy dudes. I’m not surprised that you couldn’t relate. Nor is it anywhere near a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I found myself really enjoying it. I suspect that this was mainly because I could relate to the subject matter though…

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