Monday, August 24, 2009

500 Days of Summer

I saw “500 Days of Summer” yesterday. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read this, since it’s full of spoilers. If you have, then read away.

I actually liked that it was a mish mash of every rom-com cliché, but in the service of a story that didn’t end as expected (I thought, but more on that later). I enjoyed the back and forth of the narrative in time, and that it made the city I’ve lived in for six years seem unfamiliar to me. Sure, it’s about 4 square blocks downtown where you might be okay walking, but it is a new, hip neighborhood for urban spelunkers. I was even able to forgive the oddly unbelievable company the characters worked for.

I’m really beginning to like Joseph Gordon Leavitt. He’s been doing great work. And this doesn’t disappoint. He’s perfect as the sad-sack romantic who believes the girl he’s dating is “the one”. I like Zooey Deschanel (Summer--of the title--clever) as well, especially for the neat trick of being fascinating only until the last few scenes of the movie, when she suddenly becomes mundane, and someone who is clearly the wrong person for the main character. Her charm goes away. That’s not something that’s easy to pull off. It’s an odd role, and she does it well, without giving too much away. She is, after all, the fantasy of the main character’s projection. She seems to be the indie “it-girl” of that—here, Elf, Yes Man. That’s her thing.

The disappointments for me were the secondary characters, most of whom seemed awfully contrived and not especially well-performed—or, that’s not fair, they just felt act-y. Serviceable, but acty. And as much as I found the portrayal of LA charming, I also found it somewhat unconvincing. Frankly, for the first 45 minutes I was wondering if they were in Philadelphia since the character grew up in New Jersey and his little sister was living close by. When they showed the Eastern building I thought “Oh! They’re in LA!” Also, wasn’t in love with the tough kid character. It was obviously a choice to play with all the romantic comedy clichés and put them in a movie that was trying to celebrate and subvert them at the same time: there were the interviews about love; the tough kid sister; the best friends, one of whom is with a longtime love and the other who’s single; the unattainable object of mystery who remains somewhat unknown; the dead-end job that the main character is doing instead of going after his dream—none of this is particularly new, but it’s all fine. Perhaps I was picking up on a warring impulse to comment on the genre and be an example of it at the same time.

The one mis-step for me in the whole film was the end. Here’s the big spoiler alert. I was with them the whole time, wondering if it would work out, then seeing it wouldn’t. And I was actually loving the idea that she would just be a catalyst to him—the one that didn’t work out but was somehow bittersweet and what he needed to get him to the next place—almost an Annie Hall thing, though as I’ve said the Summer character lost her charm once he was no longer in love with her whereas Dianne Keaton didn’t (how could she, really?). So, you’ve set up this whole thing, about whether the idea of fate is real or not, and if he just had the wrong girl, and I would have loved to have just left it there. This coda (in the Bradbury building of all places—you knew that had to be in there, along with the tunnel) just made me think “oh, it’s a rom-com fantasy now”. It felt tacked on. I wanted him, like the usual female character in these movies, to find his independence—which he did, but why did he need to meet “Autumn”? Srsly? Ah well. If nothing else, as it’s just occurring to me, the whole thing is about the guy. And that’s kind of fun. After all, men can be romantics, too.


StinkyLulu said...

I think your last line is exactly right. It's all about him, and his belief in romantic fate. And the last goofy/punny twist is his confirmation that he has grown into an only slightly more mature version of the person we've liked him for being all along. All told, I sorta liked that the film wasn't about transformation or redemption, but about something more akin to developing, imperfect insight.

I didn't mind the hollowness of the secondary characters -- they were obvious foils, as contrived as the interiors (IKEA and otherwise) and as glib as the greeting cards that absurd company made.

I do think we're passing through a phase of movies about male vulnerability, with straight boys being cast in the conventionally "female" role of the romcom. Which is about as far from Woody Allen as you can get.

But the thing that crabs me out is that gay people don't exist, which is lame...

Criticlasm said...

That's true. And at a greeting card company? I expected his boss to be gay, or something. Their cards bugged me, but I guess your right about the whole thing pointing out its own contrivance.

And I wonder if the male being cast as the "female" is indicating newfound insight, or just marketers realizing that's what women want to see. That's the theory of why so much male country music now is sensitive guy music.

StinkyLulu said...

I concur that it's all about trying to figure out what to do with the Apatow effect: when cine-boys are shown to have the feelings/conflicts previously reserved for cine-girls. My point about the "new insight" wasn't that the film was a breakthrough, only that the pleasures are witnessing this boy have new insights into himself. I do wonder what the Apatow-effect will mean for women's roles generally, as it mostly feels like appealing quirky boys (Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Joseph GL) taking on the kinds of roles that might have been scripted female.

Basically: no one's writing the female equivalent of the Apatow-revolution, and as this sensitive new-millenial guy trend continues, I suspect the female roles will continue to get smaller and thinner. (As much as I love Kristin Wiig and Amy Poehler and Jane Lynch, they're not being asked to do what Joseph GL was in this film -- funny, feeling, vulnerable, charming, charismatic, star.)

Criticlasm said...

You're right about that. It's interesting that it all comes back to making the male center stage again. I hadn't thought of it that way. I wonder why no one's writing those movies anymore, or if they're just not getting greenlit?

I guess it's time for me to write that Celia Weston/Ann Wedgworth/Beth Grant vehicle.