dir: Marc Webb
[img_assist|nid=1188|title=Too busy, just like this flick|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=540]
There aren’t that many good romantic flicks. I don’t think it’s the boring case of “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, and get off my lawn, you deadbeats” beyond the heyday of the Golden blah blah of Hollywood. Romantic flicks invariably suck because they’re invariably crappy, inhuman and lazy.
And yet romance infects its way into almost any other flick and genre you can think of. Romance on its own, though, without the ‘comedy’ support of being at least a romantic comedy? Oh, it’s fucking awful, almost 99 per cent of the time.
That figure is empirical fact, based on years of meticulous research, forensic testing and cross-matching with the FBI’s crime database.
I don’t think this flick is anywhere near up the top of the genre with the few decent romantic flicks of the last couple of decades or so, but it doesn’t completely and utterly suck.
We are told right from the start that though this is a story about love, that it is not a love story, and that it is more about the misery a failed relationship can bring rather than the sheer scope and magnitude of wonderfulness that can occur when everything goes right.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was just sooooo great in that last GI Joe movie, wears a lot of sweater vests and ties in this flick. That alone almost made me gouge my eyes out. He is a fairly happy-go-lucky chappie who meets a girl at work and tentatively ends up having sex with her.
Summer (Zooey Deschanel), is the kooky and wide-eyed bundle of affectations that Tom inevitably falls in love with. But right from the start she makes it clear to Tom that she has no ability for or interest in pursuing a relationship, because she’s either unwilling or incapable of falling in love.
Right there, that’s part of your whole problem right there, as anyone who’s ever had a relationship or two knows: Difference of expectations.
You want love, they just want sex; you want sex, they want money; they want bondage, you want puppies; they want head, you just want to sleep; they want to move in, you want to move to Antarctica; you want them, they want anyone but you.
The story, told non-chronologically, jumps all over the place to reveal elements of Tom’s experience over the 500 or so days of his relationship with Summer. Sometimes the juxtaposition between days is to elaborate upon a theme, other times it’s just for humour. Always, though, we are aware that we are merely seeing everything from Tom’s perspective. It’s a lens that distorts everything, in good and bad ways.
When Tom and Summer start working together, it’s in an office so over-designed, twee and kitsch in how it looks that it verges on magical realism. No office space in the universe looks like that, but I guess romances aren’t about realism, and plus the office itself is that of a greeting card company. It’s understandable for such a business with such a mission statement (blandifying meaningful communications between people) to outwardly manifest as such a twee gingerbread office, but it’s symptomatic of the entire flick as well.
If you like the look then it’s a good thing, but one could say that it’s a tad distracting to watch something so art-directed to within an inch of its life.
The soundtrack as well tries so very, very hard. That’s not to say I didn’t like the music; in fact some of the music I utterly adore. It’s just all crammed together reaching this critical mass of carefully constructed and fussed-over detail that distracts because it continuously reminds the viewer they’re watching a carefully constructed and fussed-over fucking detail heavy construction, instead of allowing you to be drawn in to the story.
For Tom, whilst things are going well, there’s joy, pure joy. There’s even a scene that proceeds almost like a flash mob where he and the people around him start dancing joyously, a scene I couldn’t help but like. But the film almost needs to have Tom talking to people who aren’t Summer about Summer, so we get the scenes where he talks to his best friends, whose only purpose is to say things about Tom. They don’t really exist as characters. At least they’re not as bad as his younger sister, in a terrible role that is badly acted as well, who speaks like a world-weary woman who’s seen everything relationship-wise despite being 12.
Yes, okay, I can make allowances because the real point is that Tom is somewhat emotionally immature, and even his pre-adolescent sister can see the mistakes he’s pursuing, but it’s badly done. I don’t know whose daughter she is, or which executives at Fox Searchlight told the director if this chick wasn’t in it, then the flick wasn’t going to get made, but there must have been some blackmail involved.
There are faults, but there are faults in anything, I guess. Despite what sounds like a long list of complaints, I actually found it engaging and enjoyable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt virtually has a lifetime pass from me for his work in flicks as diverse as Brick and Mysterious Skin. He’s not particularly a revelation or anything in the role, and has several awkward scenes that I don’t think were meant to be that awkward, but he’s good in the role. He has to walk that thin line between being relatable and being a jealously murderous stalker, which is what many relationships reduce us to. Even when he sinks fairly low in the self-indulgence stakes, he’s still likeable enough.
Of course we can’t see what it is about Summer that fucks him over so much, because, hell, we often don’t understand why some of the friends and family in our own lives go so nuts over some people you wouldn’t give spare change to on the subway. In our own lives, we often can’t explain to ourselves why some people, men or women who fuck us over or whom we fuck over; out of love, out of spite, out of a mixture of both, why any of it happens. There’s no objective, external measure. We can say “well, I can see why you’re so hung up on her, she’s amazing!” or “of course you’re still heartbroken over him, he’s a god and ever so dreamy”, but it means as much as saying its opposite. We never know.
If Tom is obsessive about his hurt over something Summer does or doesn’t do, it’s because of the primary and unavoidable reality of such a situation: someone who doesn’t love you, who ends up loving someone else. Even more so in Tom’s case, he is assured that she was never going to love him, because she was never capable of it.
But what do you do when you find out she’s fallen in love with someone else? How unfair does that feel, how gutting? And there’s absolutely no argument you can make in the face of that, is there? You can bitch about what happened, who did what to whom, who should have done what to whom and what part of their anatomy, but when you’re faced with “I didn’t love you, but I do love someone else”, all you can do is cry, cry cry.
Whatever its faults the film does a great job of conveying just these dilemmas and elements that people face in their relationships. It is totally one-sided, but why shouldn’t it be? Sure, we can be grateful that Zooey Deschanel dials down her usual manic pixie dream girl persona, but that’s still what she ultimately is, with predictable but ‘real’ results. We sometimes fall in love with an image of a person, an idea of who they are, without any real grasping of who that person is, and the flick shows us how that can go horribly, gut-wrenchingly wrong over time.
In that sense, because when it’s not being twee it is capable of saying something meaningful about the agony of relationships, the film is far more romantic, in that it gives good cause for having hope in the ideal of love beyond the saccharine bullshit version of it that we usually get. Probably the best of the flick is Tom arriving at a party, which leads to a split screen effect, with the story on one side being that of Expectations, and the other being Reality. Seeing the mundane but inexorable way in which Reality crushes Expectations was simple, but utterly breathtaking.
It’s impossible to watch without thinking of one’s own relationships and the stomping of one’s own heart in bygone times, which is fair enough. Every guy who’s had more than three relationships has had a relationship with a Summer. She’s the one that’s a demon in the sack and who utterly fucks up your life whether she means to or not, and even years down the track once the scars of either variety have healed, you still can’t forget her. She’s the one more likely to end up in psychiatric care rather than married with kids, but you never forget the first time she told you how little you meant to her, or when she let some scumbag pick her up right in front of you.
Goddamn it, I’m getting maudlin about stuff that happened decades ago just because of this fucking flick. That must mean that it did what it set out to do, even if it offers a note of hopefulness at the end. Love truly does suck. But it has its consolations.
7 times in which this flick reminded me of the long distant times in which I was in love with the idea of love more than the reality out of 10
“This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he'd never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie The Graduate.” – the Smiths will do that to you every time, (500) Days of Summer.