Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Review: 500 Days of Summer

(For the radio version, please click here).

You should see ‘500 Days of Summer’ for a lot of reasons: terrific performance, smart script, and clever soundtrack, but I’m going to start with talking about one small cinematic pet peeve - The Speech, with a capital ‘S’.  I’m surprised because this movie seemed too smart for such a thing; disappointed because NOBODY GIVES SPEECHES.  I understand the need to suspend disbelief. I understand the desire for a scene of cathartic release. But if you are trying to depict a realistic moment, you don’t orate. In my list of cinematic pet peeves, The Speech is a big one (along with self-congratulatory applause at the end of a film and terminal illnesses) but don’t let that keep you from seeing this film.

I like films that highlight a truth previously unexplored. ‘500 Days of Summer’ explores how some people warp space-time such that things just work out for them.  This manifests in many ways: perhaps it’s the average looking high school girl all the boys love; or the scholar athlete who writes poems, turns down dates, and is a quick healer; or the guy who runs into famous people no matter where he goes, even on a train in the Russian steppe.  Their lives are effortless. They get what they want and get away with it.

They are rare, but we’ve all known a few. This phenomenon is not on display much in pop culture, except maybe Kramer. In ‘500 Days of Summer’, this person is Summer Finn. She is portrayed by Zooey Deschanel. If you’ve seen Ms. Deschanel in movies like ‘Almost Famous’, you know she has a charismatic screen presence not common in young actors.  She is just smart enough, cute enough, and quirky enough to pull off a great performance. And through her performance, you understand why Tom Hansen, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has a massive crush on her; an infatuation he plays like he’s carrying around an oxen yoke for enormous oxen.  Sad and dejected when not in Summer’s good graces, buoyant when things are good, Mr. Gordon-Levitt manages to portray a sensitive male without making him a complete pushover. 

Ms. Deschanel and Mr. Gordon-Levitt also sing in the film and appear on the soundtrack. Music is an integral part of the film’s plot and a song is nearly always playing.  From The Smiths to Hall and Oats, the music tells the story just as much as the script. This is a rare and pleasant change from the norm when music is added after a film is shot to manufacture an emotional response to a given scene.  

‘500 Days of Summer’ was written and directed by men, and is about unrequited love.  But in a rare twist of the formula, rather than the women being affected by a coolly unreachable man who “teaches” her something, it’s the man who is thrown for a loop by the woman. The movie does not objectify women so much as idolize them. It’s a movie in the tradition of ‘Say Anything’ or ‘Sideways’ and squarely targets the sensitive male and the women who tolerate them.  Being thickly mired in the sensitive male demographic, I love this movie. I give it 3.5 stars. So buy the ticket, buy the soundtrack, and dive into Zooey Deschanel’s impossibly big and blue eyes.

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