Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: (500) Days of Summer

I think I liked (500) Days of Summer better the first time I saw it, when it was called (Every) Other Romantic Comedy Ever Made.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

I only have two objections to (500) Days of Summer: its style and its content. By style I am referring to its feverish desire to exhaust the filmgoer with Freshman Film School Tricks. By content I am referring to the fact that this movie is the Frankenstein’s Monster of romantic comedies, cobbled together from bits and pieces of other, better films. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in this familiar tale of boy meets girl, and their performances are genuine; it is a shame that they have been placed into such a gimmicky universe. In the spirit of the film, I now present a list of this universe’s most maddening features. In a pathetic attempt to be hip, I have ordered my list like the list in the film: because I am no “slave” to the “number line,” old man.

500. The film’s use of achronology is bone-headed; the audience is expected to congratulate itself for recognizing that the lower the number, the happier the characters will be, and the higher the number. . . well? (The film starts at the end. Oh, that is original.) The director and screenwriter even help audience members who are numerically challenged by accompanying these numbers with a little graphic depicting a tree in various stages of leafing, illustrating the chronology like a child’s picture book. A very stupid child’s picture book.

1. The list of freshman film school tricks appearing in the first three minutes alone is daunting; it speaks to a film that is all style and no substance because it has very little to say. We are treated to a snarky “author’s note,” PBS Frontline-style narration, split screens, fake home movies, Juno-style quirky-brand indie music, and characters directly addressing the camera. Whoo! These gimmicks, which are used to keep us awake and CONSTANTLY ENTERTAINED, feel synthetic, tacked-on, and cynical.

3 1/2. The use of music or karaoke in film in place of character development needs to end. Yes, I guess these two lovable twenty-somethings are perfect for each other because a) they both like the Smiths and b) they are the best at Karaoke night. Hey! that’s a basis for a marriage. Just ask my wife.

42. The film features both the “manic pixie dream girl” trope (first mentioned in The Onion’s AV Club columns) and the “preternaturally precocious preteen” (PPP) trope. Both of these now-stock characters were pioneered by Natalie Portman in Garden State and Beautiful Girls, respectively. I never thought I’d say this (out loud), but thank God for Natalie Portman. This film could not exist without her.

41. Speaking of borrowed tropes, is there anything this film did first? The achronology is borrowed from the Tarantino playbook and before that, Annie Hall. Karaoke night? Lost in Translation. PBS Frontline narration? Little Children (not a romantic comedy, unless I am missing something.) Direct address to the camera? Annie Hall again. The list goes on and on.

213. The director is so in love with the anime-eyed cuteness of Zooey Deschanel that the film develops an analytical quality, thanks to the sheer surplus of moony, full-screen close-ups. This obsession with Ms. Deschanel’s face eventually creates the opposite of its intended effect: her pumpkin-shaped noggin is so obsessively documented that we begin to notice its flaws, like the weird, asymmetrical way her head is attached to her neck. Really, check it out.

9. The end of this film is nauseating in its simplicity and stupidity. Summer breaks up with Tom. Tom goes to job interview. Tom meets new girl. Her name is Autumn. Get it? The counter resets. The tree springs to life. The sun comes up. Seriously, get it? You know both “Summer” and “Autumn” are seasons, right? Do you still not get it? I can see you nodding your head, but I don’t think you get it.

FULL DISCLOSURE: There is one thing I do like in this film. When the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character realizes he is in love, the film indulges him with a well-staged musical dance number. It is delightful. I think every movie should have a musical number shoehorned into it somewhere for no reason, like a Bollywood film. Patrick Bromley agrees with this, and he hates musicals.

BETTER YET: Great romantic comedies are few and far between, so Hollywood should just stop making them. The Apartment is great, does not insult your intelligence, and might contain the actual genesis of the manic pixie dream girl in Shirley Maclaine. Or check out Annie Hall -- it is (500) Days of Summer for smart people.

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