Monday, June 3, 2013

(500) Days of Summer (2009) Review

(500) Days of Summer posterDirector: Marc Webb
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloe Moretz
Genre: Romantic Comedy

How much can the film industry do with the romantic comedy genre? I mean seriously, you can change up the characters and their personalities, the setting, the things that happen to them in-between, but as far as plot goes the genre only has a couple of options. They could (a) Have the happy ending where the boy and girl end up together after some rough patches, (b) have boy and girl go their separate ways, happily, (c) it takes the melancholic approach and it just ends in sadness, (d) any combination of the above..

There are the rare exceptions but the majority of films in the romantic comedy genre fall into the same groups. There is only so much you can do with the genre, even one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, Annie Hall, falls victim to this. And, alas, so does (500) Days of Summer. So what makes a good romantic comedy rather than a bad one? I suppose it'd have to mostly rely on the characters and their personalities/believably/likability, i.e., character psychology. Among, of course, the humor and delivery and whatnot.

(500) Days of Summer has decent characterization. It's not the best by any means, but I'd say it's slightly better than average. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job as the boy of the story. His character is somewhat likable, though he can be a bit whiny and irrational and at times I just wanted him to shut the fuck up. Zooey Deschanel, who plays the girl, is actually one of the main reasons I watched this. I wouldn't call her an enormously talented actress, she's not bad, but she has a certain charm to her and you either love her or hate her. Her character actually kind of sucks. She's pretty one-dimensional. All I know about her is that Ringo Starr is her favorite Beatle, "Octopus' Garden" is her favorite Beatles song, she enjoys The Smiths, and she's read The Picture of Dorian Grey, and she is very reluctant to relationships (spoiler) yet she marries a guy quick as shit.

But I suppose the boy is the focus of the story and the girl is just a device to further show the boy. So, whatever.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Often classified as a 'hipster film' I'd actually protest that claim. I'll admit it does try to cater to the hipster audience (hence the casting of Zooey Deschanel) with a soundtrack and music references obviously void of mainstream appeal but also very obviously recognizable. It's as if the writer sat down and said "Okay, what music do the cool kids listen to?"

You've got references to and songs by The Smiths, The Pixies, The Beatles, Joy Division, Regina Spektor, Black Lips, The Temper Trap, Doves, Simon & Garfunkel, they're all here. But I love all these bands/musicians and many of them are among my most listened bands (especially The Smiths, Pixies, and Beatles) so I really can't complain. It's an awesome soundtrack, it just kind of hurts when you see actors acting like they love your favorite bands. I don't know, it just always seems forced to me. It's not too bad here, but still present.

But it's not really a hipster film, merely a film with hipster elements. Not that being a hipster film is always bad (it usually is though). Because the two characters aren't really hipsters. They kind of are...but not really.

However both boy and girl are kind of reduced to their pop culture interests. There's not much more to them to that. And as I've said before: it's not hard to put references in a film and namedrop a bunch of stuff. Which this film basically does. Come to think of it, the characters did kind of suck...though somehow still above average for the genre.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Besides falling into a typical and predictable plot, there are many other romantic comedy conventions here. Like the boy's two friends; they are just so awful and can fit into just about any comedy film. They were so bad it was nearly unbearable. Or the sister character played by Chloe Moretz. The boy keeps going to her for guidance and she, the all knowing 12 year old she is, provides it. Does it get anymore stereotypical than that?

I'm usually quite fond of Chloe Moretz but I really hated her here.

So though a typical plot, how was the delivery of the plot? Pretty good, I'd say. The story doesn't progress in a linear way, rather it jumps around from the future to the past, back and forth. This actually works well, and we know there are only 500 days, but it's the days that lead up to 500 that are interesting.

Oh, and as for comedy...there's nothing really funny here. Why do so many romantic comedies lack the comedy?

My favorite scene was the part when they were in IKEA and pretending that all the display rooms were their home. That scene was actually awesome and did a good job displaying the life of typical couples, in a sitcom kind of way, something that I suspect the girl character really didn't want. It's hard to describe the scene unless you've seen it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

[Spoilers in the following paragraph] The ending, I'll admit, was kind of cute with the whole Autumn thing. That made me smile. The moral I suppose is that you just keep trying until you find the one, which is actually kind of depressing. Ending was mediocre as far as ending goes, but it was presented well.

Fans of romantic comedies I'd recommend to definitely watch this. If you don't like romantic comedies, well I'd recommend against it. It's much better than the countless other romantic comedies that are churned out by Hollywood, but in all honesty this one isn't much different. It appears fresh on the outside but at its core it really is just another romantic comedy, save for a few neat things. 

In the end I'd rather just listen to The Queen is Dead or Doolittle and have a better much better time than I did watching this. In fact the thing this film did best was make me want to stop watching the film and listen to music.

Recommended for: fans of any of the actors, fans of romantic comedy, fans of indie/hipster music

3/5 stars
+Good soundtrack
+Good actors
+Great delivery/structure/editing
+At least appears to be fresh
-Despite it's appearance it really is quite typical
-Meh characters
-Standard plot

Purchase (500) Days of Summer through Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

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