Saturday, August 22, 2009

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Nothing inspires maudlin cliché as feverishly as the romantic comedy, but director Marc Webb, in his debut film, working from a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, makes (500) Days of Summer a compulsively enjoyable, exceedingly clever, and all-around refreshing movie, a pure summer breeze of fun and whimsy. It stars indie darlings Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as the nice young couple (Tom and Summer) who fall in and out of love through the course of a jumbled chronology. At the outset, the narrator politely intones a warning that “this is not a love story.” But of course it is, despite being a deconstructionist genre scramble. It could have gone so wrong, veering easily into precious or precocious territory, but it never does. The movie is sweet and charming in tone and construction, even though it feels a little empty at times. It’s touching without hitting hard with emotion, but it’s dazzling all the same. Only in the days following my viewing did I find the movie ingratiating and memorable, more than just a nifty trick.

This isn’t just a clever rom-com that is nonetheless repeating well-worn paths. This is a film with a unique point of view, told persuasively from a male perspective. The audience is firmly placed in Tom’s head. Nothing we see is outside of Tom’s take on the events. Summer remains an enigma. We don’t always know her motivation; we remain unaware of her true feelings. The film gives us a purely subjective experience and it’s both exhilarating and exasperating. Levitt and Deschanel do a fine job inhabiting characters that are at once characters and archetypes, products both of imagination and intellectualization on the part of the screenwriters. They know the rules of the rom-com so thoroughly that they can tweak them or cast them aside at any given moment.

The movie’s plot is scrambled but, oddly, I find myself remembering the events in roughly chronological order. The flow of the piece is natural, placing scenes of thematic or emotional coherence against one another. We see a scene towards the end of the relationship set in an Ikea, followed immediately by a scene from early in the relationship which is also set in Ikea. We see a montage early in the film where Tom describes all the little things he loves about Summer. Later, we will see the exact same images in the exact same order, only this time the little things are driving him crazy. Webb spins all kinds of delightful webs with the visual wit of his mise-en-scéne, throwing all kinds of tricks and embellishments into getting at the film’s emotional center: dance numbers, animation, and split screens (once with the left labeled “expectations” and the other “reality” start as duplicates and slowly drift apart) are all used to splendid effect. The pain and swooning of this man’s emotions are vivid and genuine.

The movie’s not exactly groundbreaking – and can’t touch the meta-textual loop-de-loops, not to mention the humorous and emotional wallop of, say, Annie Hall – and yet, for all of its sense of being nothing more than a cleverly told series of anecdotes, it’s incredibly entertaining, continually driven forward by its sheer momentum, carried along by its fine soundtrack. (500) Days of Summer is as effortlessly enjoyable as a well-crafted pop song, in the repetition and rhythm of themes, moods, feelings, and locations that build into a cleverly satisfying portrait of a relationship gone wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment