Now THIS is a romantic comedy ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, October 5, 2009

Now THIS is a romantic comedy

(500) Days of Summer
My rating:

Sometimes I think there really are Movie Gods who listen to beleaguered film critics' prayers. Having watched three lame romantic comedies that trade genuine emotional truth for contrived wackiness, after a full month of movies that ranged from so-so to downright awful, along comes a wonderful little film that made it all worthwhile. (500) Days of Summer was one of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year; I went in to watch it with sky-high expectations.

And hot damn, it met them.

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets and falls in love with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). But whereas he's a hopeless romantic, she doesn't believe in love and tells him upfront that she doesn't want a serious relationship. After they break up, Tom is devastated; he looks back on their time together to find out where it went wrong, and how to win her back.

First of all, this is a quirky little film. The narrative jumps back and forth through time; we start at Day 1 when Summer first joins the greeting card company where Tom works as a writer, then we're at Day 200-or-so when she breaks up with him. We're constantly shuttling back and forth between the first blissful days of their affair and Tom's bleak depression after the end of it, plus the part in between when their relationship starts to sour. The film employs the irony inherent in the juxtaposition between past and present to terrific effect, earning both laughs and pathos - and sometimes both. There's a split-screen sequence in which each half of the screen is labeled "Expectations" and "Reality", and it is both funny yet painful - for Tom.

And besides split-screens, there's a song-and-dance sequence, parodies of arty Swedish films, references to TV shows from the '80s, a narrator, and that constant counter that tells us which day it is. There's even a hilariously bitter "disclaimer" right in the very beginning that tells us we're in for an unconventional movie. The entire film has an easy-going playfulness that director Marc Webb handles with a remarkably sure hand, without ever selling short the deeper emotions that underlie the story. Unlike most rom-coms that attempt to balance the viewpoints of both halves of the romantic pairing, this is Tom's story throughout. We view Summer and his relationship with her entirely through his eyes, and those eyes are given to the occasional flight of fantasy.

But above all, this film is true. It's amazing how a cast and crew who have no idea who you are could take precisely your feelings and experiences and little heartbreaks and turn them into a 90-minute movie - a movie that has the same effect on everyone who watches it. This is why I love film in the first place; it's a medium that can identify and portray things that are truly universal about the human condition, which shows us we're all really not so different after all. I cannot imagine anyone watching this movie and not having at least one "OMG that's me!" moment. If you can say you've never experienced anything like what Tom goes through, you're either lying or incredibly unself-aware. (I'm not in the least surprised to learn that co-screenwriter Scott Neustadter based the script on a bad breakup experience of his own.)

Is there even a need to talk about the cast? They're all fantastic; Gordon-Levitt, Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler as Tom's friends, and Chloe Moretz as Tom's precocious younger sister. Most of all, they're effective; the characters are so well-drawn, the script so well-written, that they only need to not screw it up. There's a scene in which Summer opens up to Tom, telling him the most intimate details of her life. It's a typical rom-com they're-starting-to-fall-in-love scene - there's a similar one in The Proposal - but this film takes it one step further. Because when Summer's telling him those things, he's not even listening. What this says about him, what it means for their relationship, is only one reason why this film pwns every other Hollywood rom-com this year and exposes them for the superficial wish-fulfillment fantasies they are.

Thanks and apologies are in order to 20th Century Fox Malaysia; you're not so bad after all. You could stand to be a little more confident about it though, and show it in more than just one cinema (TGV Sunway Pyramid) in the whole country. Would you release it wider if it made you a lot of money? Okay then, here's how I'll help: everyone, go see this movie. It's the best romantic comedy of the year bar none. Some have called it an anti-romantic comedy, because it doesn't end on a happily-ever-after for Tom and Summer. They're wrong. It's terrifically funny, it's wonderfully romantic, and it's real and true and honest in ways we've been conditioned to think romantic comedies don't need to be. See it, and see how lame the typical Hollywood rom-com is.

Seriously. Go see it. Everyone. Now.

Update: Rating revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.

NEXT REVIEW: Surrogates
Anticipation level: fingers crossed


McGarmott said...

Finally found your four star movie, I see. Wished I could see it. I read the script a couple of years back and it didn't seem too interesting then. Casting and direction made up for it, I suppose?

Anyway, stay tuned on my blog. Major outpouring of reviews/articles expected soon, heheh.

TMBF said...

Up is my other four-starrer so far. And yes, you really should go watch (500) Days of Summer.

Looking forward to your update. :)

chicnchomel said...

Why is it only shown in one theatre (and that too, so damn far away?)...must wait for the pirated then...

Poklah Sc said...

Interesting review. Much more insights compared to other reviews available on the net.

And your review on this film makes me wonder what is your opinion on Michael Gondry's 'eternal sunshine of the spotless mind'