Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Unconventional Love for an Unconventional Love Story

I saw 500 Days of Summer for the first time the week it was released in theaters in the St. Louis area. I went into it knowing I would like it, having the suspicion that it would hit on all the right notes for me. Add in terrific performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, two actors that I adore, and I swoon. After my first viewing, I was a bit apprehensive about the film, as I was afraid that it just played into the pure emotional reasoning that sometimes goes along with enjoying a film; the cinephile part of me was prepared with cynical comebacks.

Shortly after my first viewing of the film, Gordon-Levitt, Deschanel and director Marc Webb released a bonus musical number completely unrelated to the movie set to the tune of She & Him's "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" (Deschanel is the "she" of that group, for those who don't know.) That was the start of me realizing that 500 Days of Summer is more than just a film that draws an emotional response from me as a human being - it is also a film that can be taken seriously by any cinephile. A couple of months later, I saw the film for the second time, and my emotional and film-loving responses matched up. I've probably watched both that music video and the clip of Gordon-Levitt's musical number from the film about 20 times each now - because they just instantly make me happy upon viewing, and because they are both great representations of cinematic moments.

I recently watched the film for the fourth time, on Blu-Ray, and it is quickly climbing up the ranks of my favorite films of 2009 and of all-time. Needless to say, I will be rooting for Gordon-Levitt to win a Golden Globe on Sunday (January 17), and also secretly hoping that he'll pull an upset and somehow get an Oscar nomination on February 2. I've been a fan of his for almost as long as I can remember, from the days of TV's "3rd Rock from the Sun" and 10 Things I Hate About You all the way up to 500 Days of Summer. To a lesser (but still fairly large) extent, I've also been a fan of Deschanel, as an actress and a musician, since I first saw her as William's older sister in Almost Famous. As I said earlier, they both give strong performances, as do supporting players Chloe Moretz, Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler.

The music is also a major factor in my love for the film. From a few great karaoke performances by Gordon-Levitt, Deschanel and Arend through the "You Make My Dreams Come True" musical scene to the placement of two Regina Spektor songs, all of the musical cues are pitch-perfect. I am a huge Regina Spektor fan, and the use of "Us" in the opening credits helps build the smallest sense of hope; "Hero" magnifies the heartbreaking scene it accompanies later in the film.

In one way or another, this movie also managed to break in quite a few pop culture references, from TV's "Knight Rider" to a play on classic foreign films, most notably those of Ingmar Bergman, in one fantasy sequence.

If you take away all bells and whistles - the references and fantasy-type scenes - you are still left with a film that projects realism about modern relationships. Of all the more realistic moments in the film, there isn't a single one in the movie that hasn't brought to mind either something that I've encountered or that someone I know has encountered. None of the dialogue feels forced, which is a dreadfully common occurrence in most romantic comedies being released nowadays.

The blending of fantasy and reality is perfect, from the opening disclaimer to the last look. The credit for that is due to everyone involved in the making of the film, but most notably the screenwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and director Webb.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

This awards season, 500 Days of Summer has officially joined Away We Go and Bright Star to become my trifecta of underdogs. (Inglourious Basterds is probably my favorite front-runner.) Those three movies have more going on in singular frames than some movies have going on throughout their entire plots, and not in a showy way, but in a way that makes the most simple things at times the most beautiful and/or the most intense.

Side note: I will have a longer post on Joseph Gordon-Levitt on February 17, his birthday, which also happens to be my birthday. For now, I'll leave you with the aforementioned Bank Dance:


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