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Aug 3, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: (500) Days of Summer

It hardly seems like spoiling (500) Days of Summer (given the trailers) to say that the film's wisdom can be boiled to two pieces of dialogue. This is somewhat surprising considering that they are spoken by our protagonist Tom Hansen's best buddies. At one point, Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, heretofore to be known as JGL) chides these friends for their inexperience with love as they attempt to give him advice. But it is they that prove wise.

The first comes from his work buddy McKenzie (played by SuperTroopers vet Geoffrey Arend hilariously); Tom and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are still in the "just co-workers" stage despite his infatuation with her. They are at a bar getting slightly toasted and the topic of boyfriends leads to the topic of love, the point where Summer and Tom lay down their beliefs on modern romance. As you no doubt know by now, Tom believes in fate, true love, a soul mate - whatever you wish to call it, and Summer, stunted by the pain of her parents' divorce, doesn't believe in love at all, and she runs from commitment the moment she smells it. McKenzie, blitzed out of his mind, has a light bulb go off inside his head: "You're a dude!"

The second is less conventional yet much more potent. In one of the many diversions from your standard rom-com that (500) Days takes, we are shown a group of characters giving When Harry Met Sally-like, black-and-white testimonials relaying their thoughts on finding "the one." Tom's unemployed friend Paul, who has apparently been with his girlfriend since high school, talks about what his dream girl might look like. He starts out like your typical guy might, talking about her "bodacious rack" and "maybe some different hair." But he quickly realizes that this dream girl can't compete with his girlfriend - after all, she's real and love's him, while dreams often disappear when you wake up.

That's the essence of (500) Days. Despite its Fox Searchlight and Sundance pedigree, it's not life-altering or monumentally deep. In fact, though it doesn't play for easy laughs and physical humor, it's just the opposite. It's light, and gets by well on the strength of a few factors, from its gimmick (which could get a tad confusing if you're not paying attention) to its hipster indie soundtrack (Regina Spektor's "Us" is the runaway standout, but it's very nice overall) to its lead, JGL. Had the screenplay included a few more quirks or a few additional lines like this ("So what’s the prognosis, FertileMyrtle?") or this ("Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it!"), I would similarly have little doubt that Summer would be getting Juno comparisons up the yin-yang. As is stands, it has thankfully not; I say that not as one of the multitude of Juno haters, but as someone that recommends you see Summer before the inevitable group of cynical douchebags tells you that it's a "piece of overrated Juno-y crap!" There's not much in this world that's less annoying than a vocal minority shouting down a not-as-vocal majority, thus convincing the as-yet-unopinionated that Product X isn't worth their time. For whatever reason, I feel protective of Summer and don't wish this fate upon it.

The omission of her name in the list of strengths above isn't a slight to Zooey Deschanel, as Summer is indeed appealing...but she's just never as perfect to us as she is to Tom. Right from the get-go, this feels like JGL's breakout film, and he carries it all the way, reminding many at times, myself included, of his former 10 Things I Hate About You co-star. Whether he's mugging his way through the hilarious Hall & Oates dance number or moping for weeks on end, Tom remains eminently likable, and JGL's charisma is to thank. Combined with his turn in G.I. Joe, expect this to turn from the summer of Summer to the Summer of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

10 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: (500) Days of Summer"

whitney said...

I think GI Joe was a terrible move for Mr. Gordon-Levitt. Like...maybe the worst move ever. But, I don't know if he can ever top his performance in Brick. That was hilarious-awesome. Hilarisome.

Ryan McNeil said...

Glad to hear that you don't think this movie is hater-worthy. It's not any sort of game changer, but it provides a great alternative to the migraine-inducing summer McMovies.

"We've been like Sid and Nancy for weeks now..."

Richard Bellamy said...

A very enjoyable response to the film. I especially love your rant about the "cynical douchebags" who might tell us that this movie is "'a piece of overrated Juno-y crap!'" Very funny.

Coincidentally, I think the movie-page blurbs are calling it "This year's 'Juno.'" People sure like to put things in little compartments! Why do we have to assign labels that don't reveal the truth!? I

I agree the film is light but fun and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are wonderful throughout.

Fletch said...

Whitney - I don't know about that. Yes, I think GI Joe looks gawdawful, but the fact remains that it will get his face (assuming we see his face, given his role) out there all over the world. And, despite how bad it inevitably will be, he won't get any of the blame for it (I'm guessing). So, it might be a no-lose scenario for him, aside from him possibly losing respect from some fans. But it's times like these when I think back to George Clooney. I didn't like Clooney much when he was on ER, and his participation in Batman & Robin didn't much help the cause. But he's said publicly since then something to this effect: "Yeah, it sucked, but I got paid a ton, which has enabled me to work on the projects that I want to. I'm financially secure now so that I don't have to work on crap ever again." (Yes, I paraphrased all of that)

The best part? He's stuck to his word. The guy has constantly taken chances, been correct on most of them, and even his popcorny fare (Ocean's Eleven, for example) is better than most of the stuff on screens. I respect him tremendously, and have been a big fan of his for years now. As long as this is just a stepping stone and not the start of a pattern for JGL, I'm totally cool with that.

Bet that's more of a response than you bargained for...

Hatter - agreed wholeheartedly on your "game changer" point. I do, in fact, think that the love for 500 Days is getting just a tad out of hand, but I understand given the movie climate. It's really good, but I don't get the 5/5 love.

Hokahey - RE the Juno comparisons in ads: not surprising at all. That was indie, quirky and made a ton of money...I'm sure the 500 Days producers would love coming close to those grosses. And it is a similar film, after all...I just get tired of predictable backlashes.

Daniel said...

Please excuse my sour attitude...

I didn't not like 500 Days, and honestly speaking this is the first time I've heard it compared to Juno (which I don't think is accurate - or fair to 500 Days, though I never saw the trailer), but I found it pretty empty, and in some ways just not all that unique - like at all.

I found it to be like any other 80's/90's young adult romantic comedy, which doesn't make it bad, but doesn't make it anything new, either. Like I said, I didn't not like it.

But how does it make any sense that Tom falls that hard for Summer when it's obvious to everyone that she's COMPLETELY not in to him. She's afraid of commitment and doesn't believe in love, and then a couple months later she's not just engaged, but already married?!?! I'm afraid all of Tom's relationships are going to end this way if he can't see things as they are.

Oh, and was also really confused by the "tricky" opening showing Summer with a ring on her finger holding Tom's hand. What was the point of that? How could anybody think they would be married at the end, even if the narrator DIDN'T say it right then?

Please excuse my sour attitude...

Fletch said...

And so it begins...

Kidding, Daniel. I actually see where you're coming from totally, and I think I hinted at it. I don't think that this isa *remarkable* film, and to compare it to a somewhat similar movie that even also came out this year, I enjoyed Adventureland more.

Anyone who's seen 500 Days knows that it's about a guy that is in love (or maybe just in...fatuated) with someone not particularly in love with him (but in like with him). It's easy to gloss over, though, how well a job the filmmakers did at showing the life cycle of that phenomenon, and as someone who was in Tom's shoes earlier in life, I can attest to its accuracy. I think that connection is what's drawing such high praise from many.

I've tried to separate that connection from the filmmaking itself and have come to find a middle ground. It's funny, but I think this reminds me greatly of Gran Torino, and especially your reaction to it compared to mine. I could see the importance of the themes in it, but couldn't get over some of the shoddier aspects of the filmmaking; you were willing to overlook them and/or not see them in the first place. I think that's what many are doing for 500 Days.

Daniel said...

Fair enough, but don't peg me as a back-lasher here. I liked 500 Days, I think, quite a bit more than you liked GT. And I'd say I liked it more than Juno and Adventureland combined.

I just hated the countdown/slot machine thing and the "trick" at the beginning.

Fletch said...

"but don't peg me as a back-lasher here"

Not in the slightest. I'm actually a bit surpised that you liked it as much as you do. I think that, by and large, I have pretty good Dan-dar.

whitney said...

Fletch - you're right. And I'm the first one to back up Nicole Kidman's bad choices when she always ventures out and does a sadistic Lars Von Trier movie. I was judging the GI Joe Kid too harshly. He seems smart enough to take those interesting roles, too.

Big Mike Mendez said...

loved your comment comparing him to Ledger. If anyone could replace the Joker, it would be JGL.