Like most guys I don’t live in the romcom genre much. There have been great ones because of their innovative scripts and performances:
“Moonstruck”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “Some Like it Hot”, “Groundhog Day”, “It Happened One Night” and of course the wonderfully contrived “Sleepless in Seattle”. “City Lights” may have been the genres’ great silent classic and proof that these films have been a staple of the film industry since its inception. After all movies are the perfect dates right? Yet the way Hollywood mass produces things, quality always wears thin and we have all been subjected to some outrageously bad romcoms. I don’t know why but “What Happens in Vegas” sticks in my mind but there are hundreds maybe thousands. (You hear that “Pretty Woman”?) Date movies or chick flicks have become the scourge of man’s existence.
Yet I still have a soft spot for “Annie Hall”. The fun way it dissected the relationship, its bits of absurdity and its unexpected conclusion. This was Woody Allens’ greatest moment, and as I’ve said on this blog before, it’s been a sad thing watching his films decline with each passing year. That classic came to my mind again as I watched “(500) Days of Summer”, the “Annie Hall” of Gen Y.
This generation so easily falls into a hipster pose but with this film we have none of the forced irony or ‘too cool for school” posing that makes older folks cranky. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom who wears old timey suits and ties rather than skinny jeans and a souvenir T-shirt. His love interest is Summer (Zooey Deschane) who also leans towards the classic, wearing vintage dresses. This is just one clever way that director Marc Webb (who also co wrote the script with Scott Neustadter) frames this story as timeless rather than as a bland modern romance. He also has filmed the story in older buildings, so although it’s set in LA which is so often cold and soulless on film, here it shows the character of a New York or Chicago backdrop.
Tom was an architecture student who now works as a greeting card writer. So, sure the movie doesn’t completely avoid being hokey. In fact his work attitude and rant at a meeting when he’s having love life troubles is a little overdone, but the movie is charming enough to forgive this. When Summer enters the workplace he is smitten and the countdown of the 500 days begins. The fun part is that since this is told from Tom’s point of view, the days are not in any order. Good days and bad days intermingle as we see their relationship without clear linearity. Opening narration even announces that “this is not a love story” so we watch the relationship knowing that it is short-term just like “Annie Hall”. I think in this day and age this makes the film more realistic and meaningful despite its flights of fancy. Zooey Deschanel is a bit cold but she does well in the role where she has to be a bit of a heavy. (Although I think Ellen Page would have rocked it) Her character is one who remains mysterious and is only revealed through Tom’s eyes, so she is always elusive and distant as crushes often are. Along the way we see two versions of a night (imagined versus actual) that I thought was brilliant. Tom even breaks out into song showing how we all live our lives and especially our romances through the filter of Hollywood expectations. In short this film is clever, well-performed, fun and defies hipster detachment with its sincerity. Isn’t that what romcoms are supposed to be? I also think the last line put a great bow on it. It’s like a brief romance itself, don’t over think it and you’ll have a lot of fun.