Tuesday, December 8, 2009
(500) Days of Summer ***
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg
When the movie starts we are warned "this is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story."
The movie doesn't mean this out of a selfconscious attempt to re-invent the romantic comedy or be ironic, it says so because the actual dilemma at its center is that it doesn't really know what love is.
If you're not sure what something really is how can you talk about it?
The next ninety minutes are spent presenting two opposite views of what this abstract concept is.
We have Tom (a charismatic, revelatory Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer who is a firm believer in fate, romance and love at first sight. Then there's Summer (the lovely Deschanel) a cynical girl who's into being "casual".
Tom of course falls for her the minute they meet and despite her warning of not wanting anything serious they begin "something"...or not.
The plot then travels backwards and forwards during the title five hundred days as we see their relationship go from "friends only" to "hot shower sex" to pure hate and drinking binges.
Shaped from the delightful screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the film often falls for conventional indie flick elements (quirkiness and retro band references abound) but it finds a personality of its own in the familiar.
It becomes a postmodernist dissection of relationships for this generation and the way it stares at us with a blank look upon its figurative face is, ironically, what makes it so sincere.
And it's clear that Webb and the writers might not have a clue about the way to define romantic love, but the whole movie is clearly infatuated with cinema.
From references to the New Wave, Fellini, "The Graduate" and a particularly cute Bergman tribute, this is terrific filmmaking.
Also, because like the relationship at its center it defies our preconceptions of how to define a movie. You can read it both ways.
It's fair of you to hate Summer and like Tom decide she's "an evil, emotionless, miserable human being, or... she's a robot". But also couldn't she just be straightforward?
In the same way, we can see Tom as a breathtaking romantic hero we all would be lucky to be loved by, but sometimes he comes looking off like a spoiled, immature brat and something of a psycho too...
"(500) Days of Summer" asks us why have we remained limited by the parameters that have jailed the romantic comedy for decades now.
Sure, it often commits some of its mistakes, but most of the time it's trying to open up its own path.
And how can you not fall for that?