Holy smokes! Summer 2009 has officially been over for ALMOST A MONTH NOW and we’ve still got six reviews backed up, their window of relevance rapidly drawing to a close. So without further ado, let’s start with the most aptly titled entry: ‘(500) Days of Summer.’ Kleenexes at the ready!
When we decide to catch a movie, it’s for any number of reasons. Sometimes we want to see something we’ve never seen before. Or we want to escape the mostly boring lives we lead. Occasionally we might watch something hoping it’ll lend us an air of sophistication (“I didn’t even notice the subtitles!”) or a conversational in at the water-cooler (“I saw Juno TOO, dude!”). We’ve all got our terrible, terrible motives. Ultimately, though, the biggest draw of any movie — and any creative work, really — is the hope that we’ll see something that reflects our own lives. To know that someone out there has experienced what we’ve experienced, or felt what we’ve felt. As cliche and emo as it sounds…to know we’re not alone.
Unless you’ve spent your life in a bubble, you know what it’s like to have your heart broken. Or ripped out. Stomped on. (Choose your own visual!) We’ve all dealt with the excruciating, enveloping pain of a broken relationship, and so has Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who at film’s start has just been dumped by his flighty girlfriend, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Tom is a hopeless romantic, convinced he will never be happy until he finds “the one”; Summer feels less strongly about companionship. Turns out that doesn’t make for the most compatible couple!
But that’s 200+ days into their relationship which, as the title suggests, lasts for 500. The story plays out like memories being pulled from the back of your mind: not in strict chronological order, per se, but governed by its own “this reminds me of this” timeline. A sour trip to IKEA (this exists?!) where an inside joke falls flat recalls a much happier trip early in the relationship, where the same joke was born. Scenes that play as neutral in the first half are revisited later on, subtle new gestures revealed that change the tone completely. Broken up. Together. Crying. Laughing. It’s jumbled up like the most sensitive LOST episode ever, but it feels authentic and true.
That’s Summer‘s greatest strength — the way it uses stylized editing not to call attention to itself, but to convey what this all feels like for Tom. The dance number following the couple’s first time having sex could have been ultra-cheesy and phony, but because we’re so happy for him (really, I was uncontrollably smiling for most of the first hour) it just seems…real. Normal. Singing and choreographed dancing and animated birds? Come on — that’s exactly what you’d feel like if you just had sex with Zooey Deschanel. Or the girl you love or whatever.
Of course it’s not all Hall and Oates, and those moments that trace Tom and Summer’s downturn — I mean, some of them are just devastating. Watching her hand slip away when Tom goes to grab it, or the meek smile she offers at an attempt to make her laugh? Those suck. The most painful scene comes later in the film when, after reconnecting at a co-worker’s wedding, Summer invites Tom to a get-together on her roof. Our hero expects a romantic reconciliation, but experiences something completely opposite…and both scenarios play against each other in brutal split-screen, set to Regina Spektor’s “Hero.” Needless to say 15-, 19-, and 23-year-old Henning all cried in solidarity.
Hats off to the casting director who put Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel together. When Tom is falling in love with Summer…so are we. When she, however unconsciously, is hurting him deeply…well, we feel it, too. As played by Deschanel, Summer is confounding and cutting and lovely and amazing all at the same time. This being Tom’s movie, she is ultimately made something of a villain
but her actions always feel rooted in something real. Whatever you think of her acting abilities, there’s no denying that her ephemeral (angelic?) vibe works perfectly here. Gordon-Levitt? He’s the real deal, guys, an actor whose ease at playing real emotions reminds you just how awful most of his contemporaries are. FUCK Shia LaBeouf and Michael Cera (Jesse Eisenberg is okay; more on that when we get to Zombieland) — JGL is the only 20-something representative for me. Together with Deschanel, the two forge an amazingly lived-in and authentic chemistry. In their dialogue, their body language, even the accompanying She & Him music video — it just feels real.
I’m realizing none of this is the most academic criticism ever. You want to know what’s good and bad about the movie — is it well directed? an interesting post-modern addition to the romantic comedy genre? — not how closely I feel it resembles my many diary entries. This might actually be my worst review ever! But I accept that, guys. And I accept me. (Phew!)
As the dust settles, it’s all too clear that Summer has entered the near-criticism-free pantheon of Fog dependables — joining movies like Rushmore and Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Cinema Paradiso, movies that I can’t watch with anything but love-blurred vision. This one’s going to be a staple of my DVD rotation, I’m sure, for many years to come. How YOU feel about the movie…well that depends on your tolerance for hopeless romantics and their hopeless romances. And for Regina Spektor. It’s unabashedly full-tilt emo and the kind of movie you’re totally on board with…or not at all. I’m guessing you already sort of know where you stand. Love it or leave it!