Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer ****
Directed By: Marc Webb.
Written By: Scott Neustadter & Michael C. Weber.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tom Hansen), Zooey Deschanel (Summer Finn), Geoffrey Arend (McKenzie), Chloe Moretz (Rachel Hansen), Matthew Gray Gubler (Paul), Clark Gregg (Vance),Patricia Belcher (Millie), Rachel Boston (Alison), Minka Kelly (Autumn).

(500) Days of Summer is the rarest of romantic comedies in that it is original, funny and honest. Most romantic comedies follow the same cookie cutter like plot of boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after. They all end with the couple getting together and having some great romantic kiss in the rain as people cheer, and never really deal with the difficulty of actually being in a relationship. Relationships are hard – they require work, love and understanding. (500) Days of Summer is not a movie that ends happily ever after, but it holds out hope that happily ever after is at least possible.

The film opens with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a worker drone at a greeting card company churning out mindless cards for mass consumption. His heart is not into it. He studied to be an architect, but somewhere along the way got lost, and is now stuck in a rut. He believes in true love, and wants to find his soul mate. When he meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a new girl in his office, he feels that she could be it. He tries desparately to get her attention and fails repeatably, until finally he doesn’t. She tells him that she doesn’t want anything serious, but he ignores that. We know early in the film – as it flashes back and forth through time from the period after they broke up to scenes from their relationship – that the relationship is doomed for failure. But poor Tom doesn’t know that.

(500) Days of Summer is like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall updated for a new generation. The cultural references may have changed from Marshall McLuhan and The Sorrow and the Pity to The Smiths and The Pixies (although both films share an affinity for Ingmar Bergman films, as witnessed in an hilarious sequence where first Gordon-Levitt imagines him and Summer as the women in Persona, and then imagines himself as the Crusader from The Seventh Seal), but the end result is the same. A funny, touching look at modern day relationships, and how you can’t always get what you want.

The director of the film is Marc Webb, making his debut from a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael C. Weber, also doing their first screenplay. The result is a film that is gleefully fun and funny, that is not afraid to get sometimes downright, gloriously cheesy (Gordon-Levitt’s dance sequence, complete with animated birds, after the first time he and Summer have sex is a highlight of the film). At times the films teeters dangerously close to giving into indie movie clich├ęs, but somehow manages to skirt them all, even while including a smart alecky kid full of wise advise, and Gordon-Levitt’s two friends – one a pathetic hound dog, and the other who has been with his wife since the 7th Grade (this second character is played by Mattew Gray Gubler, who does a great job selling his character, even making the line “My wife is better than my dream girl. She’s real” into a truly touching moment).

The movie is elevated by the performances of Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel, two of the best young actors working in Hollywood right now. Gordon Levitt is particular is quietly building up an outstanding body of work, where each performance is different from the last. Since 2004’s Mysterious Skin, where he played a gay hustler to the following year’s high school noir Brick, where he was a modern day Bogart, to The Lookout, where he was a criminal with a brain injury to Stop-Loss where he was a Iraq veteran struggling with suicidal thoughts, to his mild mannered reported in Miracle at St. Anna to his crazed killer in Killshot, and two vastly different performances in Uncertainty (which is still waiting for a release date), Gordon-Levitt cane seem to do just about anything they throw at him. Here, playing a romantic lead for the first time in years, he brilliantly carries it off. As the movie is told from his point of view, he’s got the most growth to do, and Deschanel’s Summer is more of an idealized beauty that he cannot contain. Again, since the movie is filtered through his point of view, she is less complex, but Deschanel does a remarkable job with her big doe eyes, making you fall hard for her, right alongside Gordon-Levitt.

(500) Days of Summer is quite simply a joy to watch. I do not often get won over by movies like this, but when I see one that is this good, I cannot help but fall in love with it. It is smart, it is funny, it is extremely well made and amazingly well acted. In short, it’s easily one of the best films of the year so far.

No comments:

Post a Comment