Thursday, July 30, 2009

Love (but not really): (500) Days of Summer

M. already covered indie rom com (500) Days of Summer pretty thoroughly as a decent film plagued with mild annoyances and complicated by lackluster final moments.  Generally, I agree, though perhaps more vehemently in either direction. That is to say: I truly enjoyed watching the film, but the more I think about the characters, the more I'm (perhaps irrationally) irritated (for reasons which will be explained).


Chapter 1: The Film
One day after watching the formulaic, charisma-less Hollywood schlock machine The Ugly Truth, (500) Days of Summer was a welcome shift. While its Francophile and 80's-pop allusions were relatively shallow and its magical moments arose out of a forced saccharine injection at the hands of director Marc Webb, the conceits were easy enough to swallow. Webb constructs a fairly solid balance between the temporal shifts pre, during, and post a one-sided relationship between an underachieving greeting card writer(Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who really, is always pretty good) and a girl who seems perfectly content to be an executive assistant, though she's supposedly the ultimate free spirit (Zooey Deschanel). For the most part, (500) is a playful little film that's a welcome change in a season weighed down by heavy actioners and big budget star-studded vehicles. Undoubtedly, it will be a sleeper hit in spite of its shoddy narration and illogical conclusion. I watched it with a smile on my face and was consistently entertained. It's safe to say this is the next (and a peppier) Garden State for teens and twenty somethings with an underdeveloped film education and a penchant for relating to sad British pop lyrics a little too closely.  Basically: if you're 21, High Fidelity is in your All Time Top 5 movies/books, and you've only dipped your toes into French New Wave cinema; you should be prepared to fall madly in love. See this movie before you move back into the dorms next semester, because there's a strong chance that if you go to a liberal arts college, your roommate will likely have the mini-poster over his/her desk.  Which leads us to chapter two.

Chapter 2: Personal Issues
In which I shirk the objective, cross the boundaries of celluloid, climb up on my ivory tower, and tell you I have developed a beef with these fictional characters. That's right. A beef.  A beef which cannot be judged because the real-life versions of the characters themselves, Tom and Summer, would likely take up similar arms if confronted with this display. My complaint is this: I have met these characters before. I know them. I know them well. Neither side is that interesting, neither side that quirky, but both sides will now go forth and spawn less interesting clones that will only make me miserable (yes, this is all about my own personal tolerance, I am THAT selfish).  Basically, my objection to this film is that it promotes the self-invention of a particular brand of hipster scum.  I'm not delusional, I know I qualify for a level of hipsterdom myself, but in the words of Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Katharine Hepburn, I cannot abide this.  Let's break it down.

1. The Toms - In essence, Tom represents the type of guy I tend to go for. This guy is: a little bit awkward, musically preoccupied, wearing band t-shirts covered by corduroy blazers, collecting a whole back catalogue of pop culture references to work with. That said, there are two types of this guy.  Complicated!  The first is the one who is that way because he can't help it.  The second is the one who tries really hard to be that guy. The problem with this Tom is that, in reality, he's not this guy at all.  He's just a guy with mildly indie musical tastes who ascribes too much meaning onto Morrissey's clever wordplay and loves, loves, loves, being in love. Or, perhaps, more accurately, loves being in love with someone who can't love them, and then loves feeling like a brooding romantic. These guys are always charming. It's hard not to like them.  But, my god, they're insufferable. When they're in love they're "invincible", even when you're sitting there counting down the seconds til they crash and burn. When it doesn't work out?  Hiroshima.  Have you ever sat in a dorm room or a shadowy corner at an otherwise crowded party and listened to a dude talk your ear off for two hours about how his feelings are so much deeper than yours and you can't possibly understand the pain he's in? I have. I have indeed. And when i watch this movie I can only see it happening 200 more times in my life, but in the future the conversation beginning with "have you ever seen (500) Days of Summer?"  A million guys who see Joseph Gordon-Levitt being completely adorable (he is, it's true) and decide they must embody Joseph Gordon-Levitt because all the cute, well-dressed indie girls will like them. It's going to happen. Believe you me. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the new John Cusack.  Still, this is nothing compared to the Summers.

2.The Summers - In college, there was a small gaggle of girls with Anthropologie-based wardrobes who cultivated the appearance of being daintily indie and worked hard to make themselves seem interesting. They chased after all the mildly intellectual dudes and wanted, I can venture a guess, to be junior Annie Halls. These girls were actually entirely uninteresting and clueless. They would read one Kundera book, store it prominently on their desk, and be set for life emulating Sabina.  Guys always fell for it. That's what the film would call "The Summer Effect".  A guy like Tom always falls for the girl who (at first glance) seems to share similar interests meshed with a healthy sexual appetite. She's the perfect girl! She listens to ______! Her favorite movie is ________! We're made for each other! It's fate! 

Don't get me wrong, sometimes these girls actually are that cool, but for the most part these girls are like the Summer in the movie. They have the aura of an interesting free spirit while, in reality, they're empty shells and walking contradictions. Summer, the free spirit, is an impeccably dressed, rather reserved secretary. She talks about not believing in love and then turns around and runs off with the next guy who she happens to be madly in love with.  Ringo Starr is her favorite Beatle because he's no one else's (wow, how many people have I met with that underdog complex?).  Note to humanity: that's not quirky, that's trying too hard. Trust me, I know.  I went through my "Summer phase" early (though really, I would prefer to be a Charlie from High Fidelity, thank you very much), around age 16-18.  I wrote stories about not believing in love and made claims that sound ridiculous and was embarrassingly obsessed with The Fountainhead and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (oh yes, it's true). I went home and listened to "How Soon Is Now?" while staring at the ceiling (I do still love The Smiths, which, apparently makes you real special according to this movie) and dreaming about love, fancying myself depressive, and considering things like dream life.  It was very boring. Now, at the ripe old age of 24, I can tell you the girls still in this period are also very boring. The difference being that when they shed their attempts at quirk, they won't do so in the nutty world of academia, they'll just slowly transform into, who knows, soccer moms? Baking domestics?  Just like with the Toms, there will be so many more faux Summers after this. Let's hope they cancel each other out. We will see a spike in album sales for Belle and Sebastian's Boy With the Arab Strap, and these vacuous hipsters will snap up all the decent guys.  True story.

Yes, I know I'm horribly bitter, but really, the movie isn't that bad. I just can't bring myself to like it as much as i wanted to. Possibly because i'm a cynical and wary curmudgeon prone to fits of extreme elitism.  Look at this fucking hipster.  Too damn hipster for the hipster movie.  Whatever.  Sometimes my bias comes through.

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