(“What a coincidence, I’m a twee intellectual!”)
Hey, gang, here’s a new segment in which I review movies you might see on an airplane. Because that’s where I saw them, get it? And just in time for the holidays, right? I thought so. Anyway, this is longer and more thorough than the rape jokes you’re used to, so consider yourself warned.
Marc Webb is a pretty damn good director, there’s no question about that. Every shot is artfully done and well executed, and there are some memorable scenes — namely, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s song and dance number set to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True”, after he lays pipe on Zooey Deschanel for the first time. The scene is sort of a microcosm of Webb’s style: it’s kind of cheating, because that’s a catchy-ass song (and Webb relies heavily on catchy-ass songs in almost every scene); but it’s fun and it looks great. Much as I despise musicals, I might like them if people could do them more like this scene. The number makes sense in the context of the story, the music is good, and no one makes that horrible, awful, very bad musical theatre fake smile like the Legally Blonde Billboard I wanted to dynamite for two years.
I’m not nearly as sold on the script from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. The crux of it is the romantic-comedy-but-not dealing with JGL and Zooey Deschanel’s destined-for-failure relationship. Jumping non-chronologically to random days in the titular 500 days of Summer (Summer is the Deschanel character’s name), they meet at work. He believes in love and falls head over cardigan; she says she doesn’t believe in love (she’s just not that into him). Their entire dynamic is more or less summed up in the exchange:
TOM (trying to get her to admit to being more than friends): “I realize you don’t want to call this anything and I’m okay with that. …I just need some reassurance that I’m not going to wake up and everything’s going to be different.”
SUMMER: “But… No one can give you that.”
Yeah, it’s kind of emo, and yeah, they’re both hip, clever, young urbanites who listen to cool music, so if that bothers you you’re going to hate this, but their dynamic rings true. Maybe you’ve even had a pretentious, bitchy ex-girlfriend Summer reminds you of. Who knows, I don’t want to speculate here. Point being, it does a great job of illustrating all those little aspects of the human condition that come out in a relationship where the balance is uneven. And that makes one person insecure, and that insecurity just pushes the other further away. They’re a little too cute and a little too clever at times — at one point they go on a date and pretend to be a 50s couple at IKEA. Who the fuck goes to IKEA for fun? That place is the 9th Circle of Hell, especially in Southern California, where this is set. I wouldn’t go there if they had a free dick sucking room. But for the most part, it works. They tell the story in an innovative way, and there are some real laughs that aren’t contrived, hijinxy set pieces, like say, Katherine Heigl wearing vibrating underwear in a restaurant.
(*RECORD SCRATCH*) HOWEVER, the script trips over some truly awful clichés. For instance, Tom writes greeting cards for a living. Wait, wasn’t that one of Adam Sandler’s jobs? Okay, fine. But if that weren’t bad enough, his character also once studied to be an architect, but proverbially abandoned the proverbial dream. One cliché job would’ve been okay, two are unforgivable.
Then there’s the matter of Tom’s relationship advice-giving little sister who’s about 12. She’s precocious, she’s a great little actress (Chloe Moretz, soon to be in Kick-Ass), she gives great advice, and she even calls Tom a pussy when he needs to hear it. Problem is, he might as well get this advice from a pet ferret for all the resemblance the character bears to real life. Look, I’ve got nothing against completely preposterous and unrealistic plot elements if they’re fun, but the wise-beyond-his-years child has to be the worst cliché in romantic comedy. And there’s nothing to suggest they’re making some meta comment on it here. It’s just an unfortunate plot device. Kids are cute, we get it, but don’t do this cutesy manipulative bullshit where every cute 10-year-old is Yoda. If you want a smart and irresistable character who’s totally unrealistic, be a man and making it a talking otter. Who the fuck doesn’t like otters? Not even Stalin.
Also, and I hate to focus on the negatives here because I think 500‘s positives do outweigh its negatives; it’s just that I’m a prick and this is bothering me like an itchy asshole. The ending. Oh lord the ending. So things are starting to turn sour with Summer. And then there’s this flashback where Tom’s thinking about a scene early in the movie, in which she gives clear signs that he should’ve picked up on, but didn’t. But now he gets it. And it’s subtle. Boom, there’s your ending. But then it goes on. And on, and gets worse with each passing minute. By golly, Tom’s going to forget about Summer, because… he’s going to pursue his dream of becoming an architect! And as we all know, the quickest way to becoming the architect of your dreams is with a gay ass books-and-chalkboards montage. What? Who gives a shit if he becomes an architect? This movie is insightful about relationships, but fucking clueless when it comes to careers.
Oh but wait, there’s still 10 minutes left. Aw crap, and it gets worse. Oh hey look, Tom’s meeting a new girl. Couldn’t resist that gimmick, could you? God forbid the needy, naive jackass get over the ice queen without just transferring his obsession to a different chick. Oh awesome, now he and Summer meet accidentally. Perfect, now they’re explaining the movie we just saw and liked in excruciating detail. Ugh. Why do so many movies do this? I don’t get it, is there some executive with no balls who comes in at the end and demands everything be explained to the people who weren’t paying attention? Stop it, please.