Well, I may not have cable or home-internet yet. But, on the bright side, I have settled into my new home multiplex (look, ma, stadium seating!) only a short bike ride away, and have started catching up on my recent flicks. First up on a three-picture bill this past weekend, Marc Webb’s heartfelt yet surprisingly jagged “romantic” comedy, (500) Days of Summer. This won’t be a film for everyone — It’s often too cute or clever by half, and I’ll concede that it probably reeks of forced Little Miss Sunshine or Juno-style indie cachet to people who don’t roll with it. I can envision a lot of folks — particularly those fortunate souls who’ve never been on the wrong end of a bad break-up — finding it boring and/or hating it.
But I’m not one of those people. For me this definitely goes on the Garden State “vaguely-guilty pleasure” pile. (500) Days of Summer tells such a particular and yet relatable story that I readily fell for it. Like our unfortunate protagonist, I was willing to think the best of Summer, and forgive its obvious flaws, once I’d chosen to succumb to its charms. It’d be hard to sum up (500) Days better or more succinctly than the tagline at the official site: “Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.” If this has ever happened to you, and lordy has it happened to me, I suspect you’ll enjoy 500 Days of Summer quite a bit as well.
(500) Days tips its doomed-romance hand right away, opening with a Fargoesque gag about the film’s provenance: “Note: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental…Especially you, Jenny Beckman. B***h.” From there, we briefly glimpse our star-crossed lovers on day 488 of their 500-day story, before venturing back to Day 1. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a would-be architect slumming it as a writer of greeting cards. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the boss’s comely new assistant. Tom has spent a lifetime listening to mopey acts like The Smiths, New Order, and Joy Division (check), and has convinced himself that there is a One out there for him, somewhere amid this sea of despond. (And when he meets her, it’ll be Fate! There’ll be a Light that Never Goes Out!) Summer, meanwhile, is a child from a broken home, one who long ago gave up on capital-L Love, and now she prides herself on keeping a distance from everything and everyone around her. Did I mention this will end badly?
Nonetheless, Tom falls head-over-heels for Summer, and, going with the flow, she reciprocates his affections, even though she warns him she wants nothing “serious.” Weeks and months go by — They shop for records, they indulge their IKEA nesting instinct, they reveal intimate details to each other. But all the while Tom is falling deeper in passion, Summer is skating along the surface of things. The problem is, Tom can’t see it because he’s living out his own romantic reverie (and because the object of his affection is played by the adorable Deschanel), but Summer is actually kinda awful. She’s a bit of a poseur. She’s a relentless Debbie Downer. She’s needlessly and almost unwittingly cruel, in the way that madly self-absorbed women often tend to be. And, really, how can you trust a gal whose favorite Beatle is Ringo? (Not that Tom wasn’t warned. Early on, he asks his best friend (Geoffrey Arend, most recognizable as the wacked-out college kid from Super Troopers), “Why is it that pretty girls think they can treat everybody like crap and get away with it?” The obvious answer: “Centuries of reinforcement.“)
If you’re sensing a certain amount of raw post-traumatic breakup disorder pique issuing forth from (500) Days, it’s definitely there. (Co-screenwriter Scott Neustadter has been admitting in interviews that this film was basically therapy for him after a particularly virulent dumping.) But, with two to five crappy, by-the-numbers romantic comedies coming out a weekend, I find it a bit refreshing to see a closer-to-real-life alternative for once. Thing is, this isn’t really a romantic comedy at all, so much as a story of a guy who once felt like Han Solo when ’round a certain girl (check), now digging in the dirt, trying to figure out how he ended up in such a godforsaken hole. And, in that regard — I’ve lived down there, so don’t go there — I definitely warmed to it.
The film’s got problems, for sure — There’s a half-baked voiceover (by Leslie Nielsen) that fades in and out whenever a point needs to be hammered on. There are a lot of scenes out of Indie Screenwriting 101 — the hipster karaoke date, the Howard Beale breakdown at work, the 7-11 trip in the Lebowski bathrobe. But, like I said, you either go along with things like, say, Tom’s confessor being his preternaturally mature 12-year-old sister (Chloe Moretz), or you check out. For me, I went along with the ride. The worst thing you can say about (500) Days of Summer in the end is that it’s Annie Hall-lite. (And, funnily enough, Joseph Gordon Leavitt has already been in Miller’s Crossing-lite with Brick.) Well, to my mind, there are worse things in the world than rehashing Annie Hall for a few hours. Getting dumped, for example.