The PR machines for small quasi-indie films really need to calm the fuck down, because I really don’t see how (500) Days Of Summer could have been the darling of any film festival, much less Sundance. It’s cute and quaint, and much more aware of itself than comparable films (Garden State), but it does not reinvent anything. It’s more of a retelling of a guilty pleasure television series of mine, in that it’s original title was How I Met Your Mother: The Movie.
Flaws aside, it is -for the most part- nice, and enjoyable. The romance-on-shuffle structure works about as well as it could have, jumping from day 15 to day 359 and then back to day 25, to show how an specific momentary emotion lives and dies, and letting you focus on the story despite the fact that the never-seen-narrator has already clued you in on an unhappy ending. When Levitt hits rock bottom, it’s well handled and really funny. The movie handles the grungy broken-up-with guy angle very well for a scene when the deli clerk must be wondering if he needs to get the kid in touch with a life coach. When he’s really happy, it’s handled in a comically-unbelievable tone that connects perfectly. Even the subtle touches for that scene, that everyone is wearing blue or off blue, work much better than they should.
Summer’s failings hurt all the more because of their proximity to the film’s successes. The script is a hodge-podge of the best and worst of recent romantic comedies, the omniscient narrator who seems to only appear as a narrative crutch when the script’s kneecaps are breaking, and an all too precocious little sister that smacks of every Abigail Breslin role rolled into one, and played by a talented young actress who bears such a resemblance that you expect her to have been the stunt-double in Little Miss Sunshine’s running-to-the-van-that-can’t-stop scene.
The movie’s largest blunder comes when the movie tries to cash in the good will it’s built up. The film downright drowns in the typical in-meeting-breakdown that we’ve all seen in movies, and the scene where absolutely nothing original is brought to the table. For a movie so proud of itself, this scene needs to have a few belly laughs in it, and it’s about as funny as watching Patch Adams sober.
When the movie succeeds, though, it’s thanks in part to an inventive touch that was all too sparing. One scene does a split screen showing how expectations and reality are only divided by a grand, gaping, Springfield Gorge-like chasm that Levitt’s character falls into. This reminded me slightly of when Harold (he of Kumar, White Castle, and Guantanamo Bay) dreams of having a very casual conversation with the girl of his dreams, rather than the muted stumbling non-conversation they have moments later. This, though, had more impact with the audience and was one of the better split screen moments in recent memory.
Ms. Deschanel does her best with the underwritten role of Summer. When the film does decide to let him realize that she hasn’t been as perfect as his obsession with her led him to believe, it’s anticlimactic to the audience, because we’ve been able to see it all along. Someone should have realized that there’s not much reward in the Shamalanian reveal that She’s Been Flaky All Along! The camera adores Ms. Deschanel for about 80% of the film, while the script has only been showering her with adoration for half that time. She’s just as strong a talent as she was playing the-sister-turned-flight-attendant in Almost Famous, and her time in folk duo She & Him doesn’t seem to have distracted her from acting, yet her under written character undermines anything she could do as an actress.
Her character really wears thin with the scene I’ll call, And Here Comes The Quaint. When Summer invites Levitt’s character, whose name nobody will remember, into her apartment, the movie grinds to a halt as with this small space that belies a set designer run amok and a director who should have known to cut down on the schmaltz. You know what really takes away from a character? When their apartment is more furnished than their personality. She loves Ringo Starr and doesn’t really know much about architecture, and … she likes Ringo Starr. One wonders what was cut as we all can tell what should have ended up on the cutting-room floor of forced quirk.
Despite these scenes, though, I enjoyed the movie more than I disliked it. It shares the major flaw of Public Enemies, though: a script obviously undercooked. I didn’t review Mann’s latest here, but I’ll use this opportunity to explain it’s flaw: both films smack of The Writer’s Strike. Studios must have been wondering what scripts they already had, yet had not produced. Then they made the films and had less access to writers for revamping the rough edges. What the movie-going public receives, now, though in exchange for their $12.50 are unfinished are movies that are nice and have a good flow that turns rocky on occasion thanks to script detritus gone uncleared.