A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 500 – (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer – July 13th, 2011

We’ve been saving this movie for today. After totally dropping the ball with 300 and watching it well before movie #300 we needed to be more careful, so we calculated what day the 500th day of our project would be and popped today’s date onto it. Coincidentally it also happened to fall in the summer. We considered watching it last summer and kept forgetting about it when we poked through out list to pick something out. And then we said “Duh, 500th day! It’s in the summer anyhow!” Not that this movie actually has much to do with the season, but it worked for us.

At the outset of the movie the narrator tells us to be certain that this is not a love story. Sure, fine, not in the conventional sense of the term. It’s not a romance. But it is a love story in that it is a story about love. A story about what love is and what it is believed to be. It’s not sappy and it’s not tragic. It just is. It’s more the sort of love story regular people live every day than the sort of love story written by people like Nicholas Sparks. It’s not epic or sweeping or dramatic or grand. And I love that about it. It is ordinary. For all of its quirkiness, it is refreshingly regular. Normal. Every-day.

The movie’s conceit is that it tells its story over the course of 500 days, and as the story unfolds the scenes flip back and forth through those days. It’s not entirely non-linear. It doesn’t randomly pick days to show us, completely out of order. Instead it starts near the end, then flips back to the beginning, then shows us scenes juxtaposed back to back so we can see just where things have gone and where they were. I think I would have liked it a little more non-linear, but I can see why it was structured in the way that it was and the amount of hopping back and forth does add a nice dimension to the film. It takes what might otherwise have been a story about a relationship and its ups and downs and makes it say something a little more. It’s not necessarily the specific story here that’s important. It’s the moments within it. Taking them in a shifted order makes the focus on the moments, not on the larger picture.

It is the story of a young man named Tom and how he has always believed in true love and love at first sight and finding the love of your life and never letting go. And one day at work Tom meets Summer and she is, he believes, his true love. The thing is, Summer has a very different outlook on love and she’s not looking for what Tom is looking for. What makes this whole disastrous story work is the structure. Because otherwise I’d expect it to be all woe woe woe is Tom. Instead the movie makes it crystal clear that things were doomed from the start. He even has a moment near the end when he has his own flashbacks, which are the movie’s flashbacks, and he can see how doomed it was. He was infatuated. She wasn’t. It never could have worked.

What I really like here is that both Tom and Summer come off as essentially good people who are wonderfully compatible in many ways, but not when it comes to love. They start talking because of similar music tastes. They go out together and go to movies together and they have fun. The only iffy feelings I get from either of them are from Tom’s initial incredibly horrible attempts to flirt with Summer. It’s the sort of painful awkwardness that leaves me squriming. But that’s the point. It’s supposed to only be sort of charming because he’s so painfully inept and you want him to succeed in this but you don’t want him to at the same time because you were already told it’s doomed. You saw it too. Because right at the beginning of the movie – in a scene from late in their 500 days – Summer breaks up with Tom, likening them to Sid and Nancy (she’s Sid, he’s Nancy, and she does not say this to be edgily cute). And earlier still in the movie, and later in the days, Tom’s little sister comes to his apartment at the behest of his best friends to try and help out in the wake of the breakup. Doomed.

But oh, is it sweet while it lasted. We get bits and pieces of what made Tom so hopeful at the outset and what kept Summer with him even though she wasn’t looking for a relationship or a boyfriend or any strings whatsoever. She was looking for something casual. She wasn’t looking for love and she didn’t find it. Not with Tom. But they did have a good time. A good quirky time. And you know, there’s a lot of people who pooh-pooh quirky stuff like this is being ridiculous but I don’t think it is. Every couple, every pair, every group of friends has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. And I enjoy Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as Tom and Summer. They’re cute without being cutesy. Which is pretty much how I think of the whole movie.

I think the closest I can come to criticism for this is similar to what one of my issues with Punch Drunk Love was, though since I enjoyed this and hated that it’s obviously not a deal-breaker. I just felt like really, Summer was an object here. The story is Tom’s. You see what he’s doing when Summer isn’t there. You see his misery. And then there’s Summer, who’s had things happen in her life but we weren’t privy to them. The story isn’t hers. Then again, I think that’s part of the point here, and that’s why it succeeded where Punch Drunk Love failed. Because it’s not really the movie’s problem, it’s Tom’s problem. He seems Summer not as a person so much as a goal. As something to attain and something that will make him happy. Not someone – something. And meanwhile Summer is clearly off having a life, with other friends and events and her world does not revolve around him. I do hope that was intentional. If it was, job well done. If it wasn’t, then I’m grumbly.

Overall I have to say I quite enjoyed this movie. It had some nice characterization and it handled some potentially difficult moments well. It presented a romantic comedy in a way that made it not a romantic comedy and therefore made it thoroughly watchable instead of cringe-inducing. It twisted the character tropes and plot cliches around and turned them on their heads. The device used for the last scene might be a little trite, but I’m willing to forgive it in light of the rest of the movie.

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July 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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