Posted tagged ‘Dating’

500 Days of Summer – Review

October 11, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Somewhere between the release of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno it became apparent that the so-called “indie” film had become a genre of its own, complete with stock characters and cliches. Cute, sassy youngster played by an actress talented beyond her years? Check. Hip soundtrack full of “indie” music? Check. Awkward, misunderstood young man? Check. Occasional unconventional shots that will convince teen-agers and college students that the film is profound? Check. Slightly (but only slightly) rough around the edges production values? Check. Lots of irony? Check. Constant reminders that this isn’t a Holllywood movie? Check. And there you have it – an “indie” film!

And there we have it – 500 Days of Summer.

Which was unfortunate because, underneath the layers of indie film cliches was a potentially interesting movie. Since I imagine most people already know the basics of the plot, I won’t go into to it too much, but, in a nutshell, Tom Hansen (Jason Gordon-Levitt) gets in a sort-of relationship with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) (is “Finn” a clever reference to Huckleberry Finn? How clever! How subtle! How “indie”). The problem is she’s not ready for a relationship so, eventually, they break up and he has to get over it. All of this, of course, takes 500 days.

This film is wildly unconventional in part because it doesn’t tell the story chronologically (chronological narratives are sooooooo Hollywood). It’s also unconventional because they don’t end up together in the end. In fact, not only do they not end up together in the end, but the movie doesn’t even keep us in suspense about it, nor does it follow the Casablanca model of making us lament their final break-up (or so I’ve been told, I’ve never seen Casablanca because I hate movies). Clearly, this isn’t a Hollywood movie. And, just in case we don’t realize this and thus don’t give the film all of its due “indie” cred, the opening voice-over tells us that this is not a love story, which is good because the hip “indie” music that played during the opening credits raised my hopes – I’m feeling more subversive already.

The rest of the film continues down this “indie” road (which I think was also a title of a song on the soundtrack). Tom initially courts Summer via their shared love of The Smiths (did I mention that the film has a hip soundtrack?). When they eventually have sex Tom ends up doing a choreographed dance number down the street (wow, what filmic irony). When he’s mired in depression following the break-up he gets sage advice from his sassy, wise-cracking little sister, Rachel (Chloe Moretz who has acting talent way beyond her years). Throw in cut-aways in which the scene slowly fades into a pencil sketch and the occasional black and white shot in which we briefly see the characters as children and there you have it: an indie masterpiece.

Now to be fair, one of the indie cliches in this film actually does work: the non-choronological story telling. Since we see the break-up before we see Tom and Summer get together, the film never asks us to invest in their relationship. As a result, this film isn’t about the break-up but is about the process of a relationship; it’s an exploration of the struggles that go into trying to make a relationship work, and the heartbreak that follows when a relationship comes so close to working out, but somehow, for some reason, doesn’t.

And when the film stays focused on exploring these emotions, it actually works pretty well. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have great chemistry and do a good job of showing the audience just how much their characters seem to truly enjoy each other’s company. Summer never comes across as a bitch, nor does Tom come across as pathetic. Instead, they both come across as very sincere and genuine portraits of two people who are almost, but not quite, a perfect match.

And this is the tragedy of this film. As an exploration of the challenges that accompany relationships – the struggles to truly communicate, the heart-break and guilt of a break up, the difficulties of letting go – this film is really quite moving and if that had remained the focus I might have actually liked it. But every time the film executed a superbly sincere moment, it undid itself with a pastel painting of a tree and a number scrolling back and forth to tell us which day we were on, or a slightly scratchy voiced folk singer strumming a guitar would float through the theater’s speakers to remind us just how “cool” and “hip” this movie really was, or the screen would split into concurrent scenes of what Tom hopes will happen when he sees Summer after their break-up and what actually happens. In other words, every time the film became interesting it felt the need to stop and remind us how interesting it was.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the film is supposed to leave us feeling like Tom – and the movie itself is our Summer. After all, he clearly saw a great deal of potential in her, enjoyed the genuine moments that they spent together, and was perpetually frustrated that just when their relationship seemed most sincere she would hide beneath her sarcasm and cleverness. I felt the same way about this film and, in the end I, like Tom, was ready to be done with it and move on.

The Premise

October 11, 2009

I am no movie buff.  Let me get that out of the way right up front.  The list of “great” or “classic” movies that I haven’t seen is shocking in its length and diversity.  Casablanca?  Nope.  Citizen Cane?  Uh-uh.  The Breakfast Club?  Never.  The Goonies?  No.  Titanic?  Not a chance.  The list just goes on and on and includes both films that are artistic milestones and those that are icons of pop-culture.

More shocking, though, is the list of “great” or “classic” movies that I have seen and that I hate.  The Godfather?  Boring.  Vertigo?  I fell asleep twice in one viewing.  The Big Lebowski (this one probably causes the most outrage)?  Yawn.

Now, let me make one thing clear: it’s not that I have bad taste in movies, it’s that I don’t really like movies, period.

So what on earth am I doing writing a blog about movies?

I liken it to the serial dater (for proof of knowledge of this subject, see my original blog).  We’ve all known (or been) this person: he goes out on date after date and never meets anyone that he’s interested in.  On the one hand, we all know that he has intimacy issues and that most of the people he goes out with are probably perfectly lovely people, maybe even exceptionally lovely people.  Be that as it may, the serial dater’s critiques are still interesting even in spite of (or perhaps because of) their ridiculousness.  While, on the one hand, we might feel exasperated at comments like “I can’t date her because she holds her wine glass weird,” or “her favorite restaurant is the Olive Garden,” or “she’s really bad at checkers,” on the other hand, such comments are interesting if for no other reason than they make everyone else feel good to know that their lives aren’t so filled with cynicism and disdain.  I feel that my thoughts on movies can provide a similar life affirming purpose for others.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is what happens when the serial dater finally finds someone and gets in a relationship.  The inevitable reaction from all of his friends is “I have gotto meet this person.”  And the real reason we want to meet this person is a morbid curiosity to know what kind of person could successfully traverse the serial dater’s minefield of pettiness and cynicism.

Again, I see my taste in movies in a similar manner.  If I actually like a movie then others should take note.  Not because I have exquisite taste, but because it will, at the very least, be something different and, in this culture of recycled crap in film, “different” is as compelling a reason to see a movie as any.

My disdain for movies does, however, pose one small problem for a blog such as this – I simply don’t watch enough movies to keep it going on a regular basis.  So, here is my solution: for every movie that I see, there are probably two or three beloved movies that I hate.  So, in between posts about movies that I’ve recently seen I’ll also provide occasional commentaries on why beloved movie X is, in fact, an over-rated pile of cinematic dung.  In fact, barring a stroke of creative inspiration, that might even be the title of these posts.  Also, just to prove that I’m not a completely embittered misanthrope who sits around wallowing in bile, I might also occasionally provide commentaries on those rare classic films that I actually do like.  These posts, though, will be necessarily rare since the resource from which they spring is so limited.

So, here we go…