Tuesday, August 21, 2018

(500) Days of Summer

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER           B+                      
USA  (96 mi)  2009  ‘Scope  d  Marc Webb

“It’s love, it’s not Santa Claus.” 
—Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt)

It’s inevitable that the success of JUNO (2007), and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) before that, have affected the style of recent indie films, especially with the highly personalized soundtracks and the addition of a whimsical narration poking fun of a wretched miserablism that might not otherwise be there at all.   But in this film, the mocking tone is set before the opening credits, as writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber feature a highly incendiary brief statement of purpose that precedes the film which probably gets the biggest laugh in the entire movie.  Along with Greg Mottola’s Adventureland (2009), these are two of the better written summer romance comedies in awhile, as despite the formulaic artificiality of style which demands keeping a film light and funny, both are smart enough to get at the awkwardness aspect of love relationships without neglecting the importance of equally significant secondary friendships.   Told out of time over the course of 500 days, liberally moving backwards and forwards in order to explore both the in and out phases of unrequited love, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played the youngest alien on 3rd Rock from the Sun and was brilliant in Gregg Araki’s MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004), as Tom Hansen (stealing Johnny Depp’s name from 21 Jump Street?) and Zooey Deschanel as Summer Finn (hence, the name of the movie), having a year and a half courtship where he’s a hopeless romantic whole-heartedly in love with her but she’s upfront from the beginning about not being fully committed, just wanting to be friends, preferring instead to remain independent.  But the ever-charming Deschanel is the offbeat girl of our dreams, as she’s never fit the Hollywood style of gorgeous, so of course she’s a natural at not playing any ordinary love story, instead she’s got extraordinary camera presence where she feels so damned comfortable with herself, free of any pretense, which is enormously appealing.  Gordon-Levitt on the other hand has to play much of this film with that droopy, hang dog expression on his face filled with disappointment, the one that looks like he has a “kick me” sign taped on his back.  The film is told entirely through his point of view, including the many versions of Deschanel that he envisions, but oddly enough, also a much older sounding, stuffy Masterpiece Theater style narration from Jean-Paul Vignon that has an annoyingly derisive tone that mysteriously offers up the ending at the beginning, much like a murder mystery, leaving that poor soul in love still reeling in disbelief.    

Both Deschanel and Gordon-Leavitt work so well together that their on again and off again romance feels perfectly natural, where the editing style of moving back and forth in time seems designed to offset their highs and lows, where it’s easy to put ourselves in their position, as they’re two such likeable characters.  But despite Deschanel’s predilection to play melancholy (see David Gordon Green’s 2003 film All the Real Girls), she’s surprisingly upbeat here and beautifully counters some of the straight-laced tendencies of Gordon-Leavitt, who spends much of the film conservatively wearing a tie.  Supposedly a frustrated architecture student, he’s instead landed a job designing greeting cards, where he’s a whiz coming up with ideas while he’s in the throes of love, but as he grows darker and more introverted from being jilted in love, he feels like damaged goods where cards offer no consolation.   Their time onscreen, however, no matter the mood, always feels authentic, as it’s a wonderful tug of war between dreams and expectations running into the inevitable indifference of reality, where at one point the director ingeniously uses a split screen technique with expectations and reality running simultaneously, where it’s surprising how similar they are up to a point, but also heartbreaking how different they turn out to be.  Earlier the director used a similar split screen technique where both children’s lives evolve through home movies.  In perhaps the most outlandish move, Gordon-Leavitt’s world turns into a jaw-droppingly joyous Bollywood dance fest (choreographed by Michael Rooney) after they finally make love, where he deliriously dances and interacts with everyone on the street, including a Disney animated bluebird and a wink from none other than Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, all set to the music of Hall & Oates “You Make My Dreams Come True” 500 Days of Summer - Scene You Make My Dreams Come True ... (2:05).
Shot in Los Angeles locations by Eric Steelberg, who also shot JUNO, this film would never work without a kickass soundtrack, where music is such a central part of these kid’s lives, initially meeting in an elevator while he’s listening to the Smith’s “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” 500 days of Summer-The Smiths- - YouTube (55 seconds) on his headphones, eventually leading to them both separately singing surprisingly soulful karaoke renditions, as he sings “Here Comes Your Man” by the Pixies (500) Days of Summer #9 Movie CLIP - Tom Does Karaoke ... - YouTube (1:16) while she lights up the screen with the Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra duet “Sugar Town” Zooey Deschanel - Sugar Town (Subtitulos en Español) HD - YouTube (3:59).  In between somewhere, there’s a black and white film-within-a-film where Gordon-Leavitt imagines himself stuck inside a French miserablist film with no way out, eventually ending as a Bergman spoof.  Chloe Moretz should be mentioned as Rachel, his younger sister, in something of a tribute to Abigail Breslin’s role as Olive in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, playing a 10-year old girl who’s actually more experienced and mature in matters of love than he is.  After spending the entire film deconstructing the typical Hollywood love story, basically reprogramming the audience’s expectations by refusing to allow the couple to succeed, something only hinted at in the disappearing memory play and disoriented editing structure of Charlie Kaufmann and Michel Gondry’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), the question becomes does the director lose his nerve and retreat back into a safe and formulaic ending, something that could just as easily have been chosen by an audience poll, as it lacks the refreshing originality of the rest of the film, or does he simply allow fate to run its course and end one relationship to allow another one to begin?  Despite a certain disappointment in the crash and burn realization that they are ultimately not right for each other, spelling doom and defeat, the cleverness of the final sequence couldn’t be more uplifting, where the outstanding performances of the two leads never disappoints, keeping the interest level up throughout the entire film, raising the intensity of this curiously witty and constantly amusing film. 

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