Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review: There Is No Bus Full of Zooeys

(500) Days of Summer is the best chick flick for guys since High Fidelity (2000).

The trailer promised a movie about Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, "3rd Rock from the Sun") being hopelessly in love with Zooey Deschanel (many indie flicks, the band She & Him). Gee, that scenario sure sounded familiar! And when I saw the trailer still below, I thought, "This is what heaven must be like." I had to see this movie. (Come on, I have to live up to my title of Pop Lecher-at-Large, right? :P)

This scene never actually appears in the final cut, but I find its conception and excision equally appropriate. Romantic comedies typically leave me depressed because they depict and promote unrealistic expectations. Here is a film that is about those expectations. Most of us who grew up in modern Western society feel that we have the right to romantic love. Is that a fantasy? Or should we keep hope alive? What would going out with Zooey Deschanel really be like? Haven't we all asked those questions?

[Note: I'll be discussing the themes and messages of this movie in my review, and, while I'll avoid explicit plot revelations, this review may be a little spoilerish.] [bxA]

Tom (Gordon-Levitt) writes for a greeting card company, and it's love-at-first-glance for him when Summer (Deschanel) starts working there as an administrative assistant. They spark an adorably quirky romance, chatting about Ringo Starr and architecture, playing house at Ikea, but there's an underlying conflict: Summer tells Tom that she "doesn't want anything serious". What does she mean by that? The movie jumps back and forth in time as Tom recalls different episodes of their relationship, trying to piece together what she was thinking, trying to understand how she feels about him. How accurate is his recall? Is he only remembering the good parts? The bad parts? Is there anything he's missing?

A narrator warns us at the very beginning that "this is not a love story", but it's a story about love itself. It is about the process of thrashing around, trying to understand love, and about whether we're even asking the right questions. In Brick (2006, an off-beat, deadpan film noir set at a Southern California high school), Joseph Gordon-Levitt played a classic private eye, unfolding a murder mystery. Here, he's an emotional detective, unfolding the true nature of his relationship.

I'm making the film sound angsty and dreary, but it has a buoyant and playful tone. There's a musical number, a Bergman parody, and a delightfully inventive split-screen scene, all used in service of the story, of course.

Nine years ago, High Fidelity answered many thoughts I had about "fear of commitment". Last night, (500) Days of Summer answered that same question in unexpectedly realistic ways. It helped me to better understand my own past (even though I never dated Zooey Deschanel); I couldn't ask for much more from a movie.

(No, this is not High Fidelity 2.)

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P.S.: Zooey Deschanel mostly plays an indie fanboy fantasy version of herself (and you won't hear me complaining!), with a bit of realism tossed in, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is shaping up into an actor to watch. He revealed himself as a true talent playing the protagonist in Brick. In (500) Days of Summer, he's handsome but timid, pensive and sensitive. The female friend I watched it with was equally (more?) impressed; she said he's got a bit of a Heath Ledger look going on, too, especially when he wears a suit.

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