Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer's the Worst: (500) Days of Summer

If you've read this blog, well, at all, you are probably aware of my deep and unabiding lovelust for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I've given shout-outs to his films Brick and 10 Things I Hate About You. In my liveblog of the latter's TV version, I lamented about how I missed him and how his whiny successor just wasn't cutting it.

Why, you ask, am I so into the JGL? Naturally, the physical plays a big part. It starts with that mop of hair, touchable whether it's straight and feathery or venturing into Jewfro territory. Those almond-shaped eyes that radiate intensity. And can we talk about that gorgeous smile? In a completely un-Hollywood way (especially considering he grew up in L.A. as a child actor), HE DOESN'T HAVE PERFECT TEETH. His eyes squinch up and it's unassumingly sexy--a good-looking guy who doesn't realize how very good-looking he is. Most of his characters aren't super-smiley--so when he grins, it leaves you wanting more and more.

Since I saw and then became obsessed with Brick in 2006, I've followed JGL's career--everything from shitty bit parts in Havoc (don't see it EVER, Anne Hathaway is still banging her head against the wall for taking the lead role) to leads in quiet, interesting indies like Manic. I get the feeling that although Joe is not Brad Pitt, he doesn't want to be. This is an actor that could have easily coasted and made a pretty penny in teen movies. Instead, after 10 Things I Hate About You, he quit acting to go to college. (And unlike, say, the Olsen twins, he wasn't well-known enough for this to be a PR move.) Granted, he never graduated, leaving Columbia for the movies after two years of studying French. I feel that's understandable, however--the acting business waits for no one, and not everyone put off taking roles for four whole years. In short, I give most actors who attempt college a lot of credit: they have perspective outside the slick fantasyland of Hollyweird, and they want a little taste of the real, even if they can't stay there forever.

JGL radiates an intelligence and thoughtfulness in both interviews and in career choices. I don't know much about his family life, but it seems like his parents weren't Lohans or Jacksons and kept him pretty grounded. Yes, he's also in G.I. Joe this summer, reflecting the "one for them, one for me" actor mindset. But more than anything, JGL strikes me as someone who doesn't choose roles for the gajillions of dollars or the Oscar potential, but because he finds them interesting. That's cool, rare, and just ups the hotness in my book.

As for Zooey Deschanel, I go back and forth. (And no, it's not just because she gets to kiss my man. Give me a little credit.) I enjoyed her as rebellious Anita Miller in Almost Famous (who didn't love the line, "this song explains why I'm leaving home to be a stewardess"?) and as Sarah Jessica Parker's bird-hating roommate in Failure to Launch. (Oh, sue me. My mom paid.) In the latter, she won me over when she dryly instructed her tweeting nemesis, "Shut up, whore." I even kind of like that stupid hipster-bait Cotton commercial when she traipses about her lovely indie life, selecting vintage banjos and flipping through records in a store with way too flattering lighting. At times, however, she gets on my nerves. I thought she was all wrong for Trillian in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--though aside from Mos Def, that entire movie was pretty awful. And as a whole, I abhor when someone's perceived as "deep" when the unfocused look in their eyes may very well be "stoned.

That said, it's cool to see a rom-com heroine who ISN'T played by Kate Hudson. Who if the previews are any indication, also has a modicum of intellect and *gasp!* might not make it her life's work to land The One. Who plays opposite a guy who also seems smart and funny, and who isn't Matthew McConnaughey, fake-tanned into frat-boy oblivion. Not to mention that I was intrigued by the tagline, "This is not a love story." Sign me up.

Here's the basic plot: Tom (played by my future husband) is a wannabe architect who works for an L.A. greeting card company. When Summer (Zooey D.) breezes into the office as the boss' new assistant, Tom is instantly smitten. Although Summer may not reciprocate--she confesses that she's not so into relationships (and in the audience, Unpro silently chants: "Amen, sista!")--she and Tom enter into a courtship where they do things like goof around furniture displays at IKEA and yell naughty words in public. They're very happy. Until they're not. When Summer abruptly ends the unlabeled whatever-it-was, Tom is destroyed. Despite warnings from his two best friends and his wordly-wise lil sis (not Abigail Breslin, but I bet they wanted her), he vows to win back Summer's love. But was it ever really love in the first place? The film jumps around in the timeline of Tom's mind (so don't worry, I'm not giving away any spoilers here) to illuminate a twosome that is way more flawed when given a second look.

So, how 'bout we start with what I HATED?

  • For a large part of the movie, I actively disliked the title character. Yes, Summer is lovely, dresses cute, and doesn't require a man to get by. That said, she's a TWIT. Oooh, she has bangs! Oooh, she likes The Smiths! Ooooh, she had a relationship with another woman in college! (That last one angered me most of all. Seriously, writers? Stop feeding into the male fantasy. Yes, people experiment in college, but most women who have relationships with other women? They're called LESBIANS. And they don't. like. dudes.) All this would be well and good if she said anything remotely intelligent. And no, I don't consider declaring Ringo to be your favorite Beatle "intelligent." Granted, most of the movie is from Tom's perspective, but at times, Summer came off as borderline retarded. Is this what guys want? Ugh. Ugh. UGH.
  • Here's my main issue with Summer: girls like her are the bane of my existence. Oh, they walk among us. They crush on the same tall, dark-haired indie drinks of water I do. They win over these guys with quirkiness that trumps mine (because I wear glasses, am loud, hold a real job, and am alternative but not excessively so). THEN . . . they follow whatever sparkly fairy lives in their brain (whereas the spirit of Tina Fey lives in mine, or at least I like to think so) and flit off to whimsically break yet another heart. And then--guess who the mopey guy turns to when he's on the ledge? That's right--chicks like me are perpetually picking up the pieces left in the wake of girls like Summer. And. Boys. Never. Learn.
  • That said, Tom annoyed me too. Granted, it took longer because it was JGL, but man, the guy was MOPEY. Remember how when you were younger, you thought the emo guys were sooo deep because they were all broody and dark? Then you grew up and realized they were just whiners with no motivation? Yeah, that's Tom for a lot of the movie. The fact that he just refused to get over Summer really, really bugged me.
Then I realized, for better and for worse, that I saw myself in both of them.
Because we've all been Summer. I'm not talking about the aggressive quirkiness and inexplicable charm. I'm talking about the fact that at some point in your life, you take up with somebody who likes you better than you like them. It might be a time where you don't want anything serious, it might be that you like having a warm body next to you, or a little bit of both. And you may very well be upfront from the beginning--that you aren't in it for the long haul. But the other person doesn't listen. And you know it's wrong because they will inevitably get hurt, but you go along with it. Until you can't. And no matter how guilty and awful you feel, there's nothing you can do to make the other person feel better--except get back together with them, and that's not fair.

And we've all been Tom too. We've held on to a liaison for a painful amount of time, swearing this person is The One even when our pals try to set us straight. We've played numerous games of denial, thinking of we just wait long enough or say the exact right words or play the perfect song over and over, everything will be restored to the bliss it once was (or so we think, as we've idealized and fetishized this person in our minds). Scenes from the relationship are on constant repeat, as we agonize over what we did and didn't do to screw it up. And we just will NOT accept defeat, until we are slapped in the face when our expectations don't come anywhere near reality (illustrated in the film with an inspired split-screen sequence).
That's been me. That's been you. And the filmmakers get it beautifully.

It's a fact: most relationships don't work out. I'm not talking about the divorce rate. For every happy ending--whether that's marriage, life-long commitment, or just settling down with a chosen One--there are a million sad endings. And those include the people who eventually find everlasting love--the majority have to suffer through at least one bad breakup. But you know what the great thing about relationships is? You learn. You almost always learn. And by the end of the film, Tom and Summer have learned. Because of their time together, they'll be better. In many ways, that's the happiest ending I can imagine. (Or maybe I'm just really morose. But still.)

This ain't the feel-good movie of the year, y'all. At the same time, it's not depressing either. Sure, it's sad at some points and downright cringeworthy at others. But the word that comes to mind when I think of (500) Days of Summer is this: relatable. The two principals are believable and accessible in their happiness, confusion and heartbreak. You have experienced what they've experienced, in some form or another. And you got through it, right? You'll root for Tom to do the same (the movie is from his perspective), even when you want to smack him to expedite the process.

Also, it's a damn pretty movie to watch. Not just because of the comely leads, but the art direction is phenomenal, the best cinematic eye candy I've seen since Marie Antoinette. The entire color scheme is brown and blue--according to IMDb, it was designed around Zooey Deschanel's eyes, and no matter how you feel about her acting, you can't deny those vivid peepers. Also, the film plays a lot with lines, in both the greeting-card illustrations Tom faces at his day job, and the architectural drawings he favors. Plus, the filmmakers get just how lovely L.A. can be. I remember visiting the city back in 2007, for the first time since I was a kid. I had been warned at what a parking-lot wasteland the place was, nowhere near as glamourous as you would imagine the epicenter of film. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of Los Angeles. Maybe you have to look a little harder, but it's right there waiting.

Finally, I can't hate a movie that appreciates the evocative charm of Regina Spektor, enough to use her songs in two key scenes. I just can't.

My final verdict? SEE IT. You won't be smiling all the way through. You'll recall the anger and frustration of relationships that died a slow and painful death. But by the end, you'll feel better. You'll remember that sometimes we have to survive the bad stuff in order to earn the good. You'll think about it the next day. And the next. And if you're like me, you'll have a very interesting discussion with a like-minded friend.

And then you'll see it again.


  1. I kind of want to, mainly based on your review...but the quirky thing annoys me, too. It's so..."Look! she's pretty! but not 'conventional!'" Ugh. It just grates.

    Reminds me of this actually:

  2. Honestly, I'd see it anyway. Like I said, you want to slap both of them at times, but then they redeem themselves in the end.

  3. Ooh, I'd never heard of this movie, but I kind of want to see it now. I love JGL too, this may may me seem low brow but I really loved him on 3rd Rock From the Sun, but the first time I thought he was a good actor was in 10 Things.

    Recently I saw Mysterious Skin and it completely confirmed for me how talented he is.

  4. Don't worry about being low brow--the first thing I saw him in was Angels in the Outfield! Even as a kid/young teen, he stood out.

    I highly recommend Brick if you haven't seen it yet. It's basically his tour de force, and it's an interesting film to boot.

  5. I really want to see Mysterious Skin--I read the book a while ago and loved it.

  6. @Sadako: It's great. Michelle Trachtenberg is in too, and I love her in everything other than Buffy, which makes me think that maybe someday I'll see Dawn as something less than a heinous waste of time.

  7. Good review as always! Gordon-Leavitt, I love that kid. I first saw him in Brick, which I absolutely adored and keep meaning to see again. I liked him in Stop-Loss and he was terrific in the Lookout, in what I thought was a pretty challenging role...

    Maybe we'll see this. My husband wants to looks like his kind of thing. I have such a hard time relating to characters caught up in unrequited love. But if it's a pretty movie, well, that makes a big difference to me.

  8. Bryn--Brick holds up very well on multiple viewings. I was better able to appreciate the rapid-fire dialogue and how incredibly well-written it is.

    You should go with your husband--it is indeed very pretty and stylistic, and Zooey's outfits are to die for.

  9. As a denizen of Williamsburg, dear God do I feel your pain re: the Summer types. Which is exactly why I am avoiding this movie - I mean, I deal with enough of these girls on the daily, the last thing I want to do is shell out ten unemployment dollars to spend two hours getting pissed at one on the big screen.

    That said, I think this is a fair review - I will wait until I can watch it on Hulu or something for the worldly lil sis alone.

  10. I hated this film. I hated it a lot. Perhaps I hated it because Summer reminds me just a bit too much of my first girlfriend. Especially the way she squeezed every last ounce of adoration out of her helpless puppy dog admirer, prior to shattering him to pieces like broken pottery.

    Maybe I also hated it because it turned one of my favorite actresses, Zooey Deschanel, into an evil heartless bitch. I'm afraid I rather prefer the Zooey image from Elf, or yes man, or Tinman or even Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy. Maybe this is closer to the real Zooey, than the lovable cute girl next door persona she often projects. At any rate Zooey is the only reason I endured this film and now I'm sorry I did.

    Frankly the film dragged in the middle. How many stupid scenes of holding hands or giggling in Ikea or gratuitous sex scenes do we need to watch?

    I prefer to be entertained by films not tortured. I don't need some dark angst ridden film or some commentary on an unpleasant human emotion. Perhaps another watch of Kung Fu Hustle will make me feel better.

  11. Excellent information because most of time we get different issues, so I'm gonna divert my attention a bit in order to say what a beautiful image I saw there.

  12. This movie bores me to death, I wonder why you like this stuff so much, it's plot is completely predictable.

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