Review: (500) Days of Summer

March 27, 2009 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

500-days

I didn’t go to the actual, technical kick-off of the film festival; I was stuck at home watching a surreally bland ‘50s alien movie pastiche opening at the Ritzes next Friday. I presume that the festival commenced with a man running in with a torch and a bag filled with doves being released and so on. But at least at the second show featured Mayor Nutter proclaiming the importance of art and the importance of the PFF/CF in particular, all while making corny, apparently Bruce Villanch-written jokes (“(500) Days of Summer — I wish for one day of summer”) somehow mildly amusing, thanks to his singularly nasal mushy-mouth delivery. That guy can make anything funny.

And then was screened what was very likely the best opening night PFF film in…forever? At least since Jesus’ Son in 2000. I mean, there’s not much competition; this was an opening night film one year.

Last month, some of us took umbrage with the film version of He’s Just Not that Into You. No, really, we did. We took umbrage. Our umbrage was specifically fomented by the way the film — albeit in its crazily overstuffed, poorly organized way — pretended to be a corrective to roughly three billion years of fuzzy rom-coms that fed lies to romance-stricken audiences about eternal love and meeting The One and all that…only to pull a 180 in the final reel and succumb to the genre’s every cliché and happy ending. Well, wouldn’t you know the “anti-romantic comedy” (500) Days of Summer is the male version of that, only without the backpedaling finale. Well, more or less.

As you might surmise from the note of finality in the title, the romance between Smiths-loving greeting card writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt and fetching pile of dreaminess Zooey Deschanel (named, of course, Summer) ain’t going to last. For a couple seconds I was worried that the film would end it by pulling a Love Story. Rest assured, it’s just not that kind of movie. The problem with these two crazy kids is that she is Just Not That Into Him, while he is quite the opposite. They have a non-defined relationship involving everything people who are dating do but without the title — a non-status that she states up front and which he, too puppy-dog in love to resist, rather stupidly accepts.

This isn’t going to end well, causing (500) Days of Summer to indulge in its favorite trick: jumping around Gordon-Levitt’s 500 days of obsessive infatution with La Zooey. First sparks coincide with their break-up; moments of intimacy sit side by side with instances of utter, booze-filled depression. One particularly upsetting cut leaps from the two in early seduction to her, under a year later, visibly irked by his attempts at goofy humor. What at first seems like one of those all-too-autobiographical “here’s an ode to that bitch who broke my heart” films (see, to name just one random example, The Wackness) instead possesses both the proper distance to critique Gordon-Levitt’s reckless abandon and the required mooniness to indulge in it as well.

In other words, this is director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Webber‘s collective Annie Hall — a paean to a relationship that can’t work, between two people who can’t connect no matter how much at least one of them wants them to, that vies for brutal honesty while also acknowledging the necessity of love and all that. Indeed, there are a welter of specific moments I’ve been waiting forever to see in a movie, much less a film that’s technically a hyperkinetic, bubbly comedy, albeit often a clinically depressed one. It’s a pity (500) Days of Summer can’t stay tough-minded all the way through, eventually giving in to a finale that’s just a touch too hopeful. But a film that essentially tells people that they shouldn’t be smitten with people who aren’t as smitten back is probably allowed a bit of over-optimism.

Oh, and Gordon-Levitt? Continues to rule. His role as written is bland emo-ness and there’s only so much he can do with it. But he works in reams of unexpected, strange actorly moments. There will be few more awesome throwaway moments this year than the laugh he cracks after coldcocking some douchebag in a douchebag bar, just before getting coldcocked himself. I cannot wait to see this guy’s Cobra Commander. Grade: B

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PFF/CF: Just For the Record, A Short List of What’s Missing Incidentally

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