Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review: (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer
Dir. Marc Webb
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 95mins

I have learnt to become wary of films such as Marc Webb's directorial debut (500) Days of Summer. By watching the trailer there are several key signs that could have ultimately signalled disaster. Firstly there is unnecessary punctuation used in the title. By and large titles with ellipses or asterisks in them are fussy and frustrating. Then there is the off-putting faux-indie vibe that it gave off. A movie merely pretending to be indie so as to appear hipper than it ordinarily have done is, much like a musical act, always going to end up with disaster. And then there's the over-abundance of oh-so-hip music cues. Oh look, they're referencing The Smiths! That the characters, both young it must be said, go shopping in a vinyl record store sent up a big red flag to me. THESE PEOPLE AREN'T REAL! All it needed was some self-consciously cutesy animation and I was all set to throw up my hands in defeat. Oh, wait...

And while it's true that these characters are nowhere near being realistic and it has many of the traits associated with over-hyped hipster flicks, the film itself turned out to be a lovely and charming breath of fresh air. What could have easily become a clawing, mean-spirited gallop through the fields of twee twenty-something romantic woe became an effervescent rebooting (of sorts) of the romantic comedy genre. Yes, as I mentioned before, the characters here are not even remotely realistic, but these fantasy objects are by far more entertaining, human and surprising than the standard Hollywood rom-com pairings we find today.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has quickly become one of this writers favourite actors and he adds another feather to his cap as the younger thinking gal's crumpet, Tom. Yes, he wears sweater vests, but he's not a total wet blanket! And, yes, as a child he had posters of Jesus and the Mary Chain as well as Public Image Ltd on his wall, but thankfully he didn't turn into a total douche! Those bands are amazing, but it would have been easy for that to turn into holier-than-thou pretentiousness. Zooey Deschanel plays the woman of his dreams and she clearly has this quirky fantasy girlfriend shtick down pat, having done it several times now.

The screenplay here by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is smart and efficient, never letting the overt quirkiness take over. The film looks sharp and Eric Steelberg's camera captures a side of Los Angeles that we rarely get to see between the rich and the ghetto. Appropriately, since the film has the word "summer" in the title, the movie is gorgeous to watch and it's light on its feet. At a brisk 95 minutes, it never overstays its welcome and Alan Edward Bell's editing keeps it moving fast while playfully using a non-linear structure without the heavy-handedness of most movies that employ it. Thankfully for a romantic "comedy" it is actually funny, too. Getting off to a good start with an opening gag that helps set the tone, the jokes never get in the way of the drama and vice versa.

As I have made abundantly clear, (500) Days of Summer could have easily fallen into a pool of whimsical cutesy-moopsy drivel, but it thankfully bypasses any such issues and proves itself to be a delightfully entertaining picture. It has interesting things to say on the matters of love and loss, but never turns any of the characters into caricatures. Moments of melancholy are lightened by moments of sublimity and everyone leaves the cinema with a smile on their face. Or, I hope they do anyway. B+


crossoverman said...

MELANCHOLY! The Smashing Pumpkins have a lot to answer for.

elgringo said...

I'm so glad people are liking this movie instead of brushing it off without giving it a chance. When I saw it at Sundance, I couldn't wait to see it again. Zooey is adorable and talented while Joseph is...well, adorable and talented.

Sid said...

I loved the film too, but I wonder why you do not consider these characters "realistic". I've known many Toms in my life.