Sunday, August 02, 2009

Review: (500) Days of Summer

"I must warn you. This is not a love story," or something like that, is one of the first lines in (500) Days of Summer. It's said by the narrator, and he's so right. This is not a love story. It's so much better than that.

What the hilarious, genius-level drama is about is infatuation. It's about Tom, a poor lost soul played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who's convinced himself that the love of a coworker on which he's fixated will solve all his ills. That it will be the opiate that helps him to forget the fact that he hates his job, his life, himself. He wants to orbit Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and draw closer and closer to her omnipotent incandescence and vanish into her, give up on himself and become a part of her.

It's pathetic, everyone around him, including his smartass little sister can see it, especially Summer, who tolerates him for a few months only because she thinks he's cute, likes some of the same music she does and is willing to play silly exhibitionist games in public that would embarrass 90 percent of a potential boyfriend pool she's deemed too small.

Of course I rooted for Tom to defy the narrator's declaration of fate, Summer's disinterest and the writers' precise designs themselves to find his bliss with Summer. Because first-time-filmmaker, long-time music videomaker Marc Webb and his fantastic screenwriters do such a great job of making you fall in love with her right along with Tom (Not that it takes a heck of a lot of convincing once they cast the incomparable Deschanel in the role). Also, we've all been there before, locked in an unrequited love, scanning the offending, oblivious angel for voodoo signs of longed-for interest that just aren't really there. Most of us get off easier than poor Tom because our crushes just ignore us. But Summer is bored enough to take a flier on him, pushing him into a semi-exclusive affair even when she confronts him and he's too sheepish to admit that he likes her as more than a friend.

This is one of those rare movies that lulls you in with laughter, longing and armrest-squeezing angst down a certain path before slyly slipping in a few revelations that turn the plot on its head and make you consider that maybe you've been watching the whole thing the wrong way, and that you'll need to give it a fresh look someday when you find it on DVD, or maybe next weekend. Or maybe in half an hour. I loved the movie so much I would have sat eagerly while they re-spooled it and gave it another go. The second time around you'd see things the right way. That's what Tom is thinking so the thought enters your head as well. He was in love not with Summer, but the idea of being in love. At the end of the film it's not that he hates her, but that she helped reveal to him his silly second-adolescence fantasy never really existed. Tom is unlovable because he gave up on himself.

It's no surprise that IMDB voters have already lifted it into the top 250 movies ever made, because it gives you so damned much to love!

The dialogue has the cleverness of Juno melded with the honesty of Once and Before Sunrise/Sunset. The characters don't quite talk the way real people do, nor do they seem like their words are test-tube babies cooked up in a screenwriting lab.

The sequence in which Tom and Summer play house inside an IKEA is just perfection. They shoul cut the sound from that clip and sell it as a single for iPods. It's iconic and everlasting, like Rocky sprinting up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with pumping arms raised. It's the Death Star blowing up. It's the characters in Band of Outsiders sprinting through the Louvre. And the IKEA moment is barely better than any other 5-minute stretch in the film.

The novel-like construction and time-skipping plays out perfectly, alternating from fleeting moments of bliss in the earlier days, onto the agony and despair of the latter days, then back again. There is rhyme and reason to the way the story is told. You're literally inside Tom's head, sulking unshaven, crying into your pillow, thinking back as to what convinced you this thing with Summer would work out, only to allow your cruel memory to jerk you back into reality -- it's a violent, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-like debate.

Look, here I am a million paragraphs into the review and I've made the movie sound so serious. The fact is it's incredibly funny, often inappropriately so, which makes it all the better. There are levels to the humor. At any given moment a third of the theater was laughing at one thing the others missed, only to have another third laugh at the next thing. You could read the entire film as a comedy, all the way up to the stinging final line, which is one of the rare universal howlers in the film.

The narrator -- can't find the guy's name -- is the one who pushes the movie from excellence to greatness. And the performances are pitch-perfect, because Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel don't so much act as play themselves, or at least the same characters both always play in every movie they're in. Deschanel, or maybe someone who sounds just like her, sings throughout soundtrack. At first I found the inclusion of the She & Him music to be a little too cute, but midway through the film I was fine with it. And by the end I think the choice to have Deschanel or a voice-clone sing the soundtrack was the only one possible. If the idealized Summer is haunting Tom's every thought, why not have someone who sings with her voice haunting his subconscious as he recollects his 500 wasted days?

Lord, do I love this movie. Walking out of the theater I felt just as staggered as after I watched Before Sunset and Once. It's a romantic anti-romance, a self-help video, 96 minutes of stand-up comedy and escapist bliss. It's a movie that makes me wish I were still a film critic so I could beg tens of thousands of readers to see it rather just the few who will read this post.

3 comments:

cortez said...

yo phil good review but there's no She and Him on the soundtrack at all, and in fact the only time that Zoey sings is in the karaoke scene doing 'Sugar Town.'

Dave said...

Great movie, although I wish the last scene would have been left out. I felt like a happy ending was forced upon us. autumn? groan. Still, it only drops it down from 100 to a 98 for me.

I was also curious about the narrator. I looked it up on imdb.com, and it lists a "French Narrator." Didn't sound French to me?

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