Friday, July 24, 2009
My long-awaited (500) Days of Summer rant
This is the best part, isn't it?
I mean, looking at this still from (500) Days of Summer, you would imagine that this is just the best of, well, everything... right?
How could it not be? An attractive couple dewy with youth, expectant smiles flickering at their lips. A pulsing city serving as the glistening backdrop for their crumbly, sweet slice of Cupid's pie. Warms the cockles, don't it? Sho'nuff.
All the potential in the world -- right here in these two beating hearts.
All the potential in the world. Or so you'd hope.
And "all the potential in the world" is *exactly* why I *hate* this movie.
I hate this movie, because I care about this movie.
I think it deserved better. Better writing, better direction, better cinematography and (sorry, JGL fanatics) a better male lead performance.
I hate this movie because the scenes that *do* work flutter up full of hope and loveliness, then are quickly wrestled to the ground and waterboarded with a saccharin swill of god-awful clichés.
I hate this movie because while watching it, I kept having the sensation of "I feel like I'm watching a *movie*" -- meaning I felt like I was merely observing a synthetic experience calibrated to entertain me based on some focus group-tested sit-com recyclables.
So what? That's fair of you ask. And then you might point out that there are tons of crappy rom-coms clogging multiplexes constantly. Why pick on this one?
But. BUT. (500) Days of Summer cannot be dismissed as a crappy rom-com. Oh, if it were only that easy. It cannot be dismissed as a crappy rom-com because of its handful of terrific moments. Terrific moments that hint at a film that had... All. The. Potential. In. The. World. Potential that it let go to voicemail.
Which is why I hate this movie.
This may be a good time to point out that hate isn't the opposite of love -- indifference is the opposite of love.
I could've seen a crappy rom-com and been indifferent to it, but to see a crappy rom-com with flashes of brilliance brings out the hate in me. Like being in an abusive relationship with a guy who buys his lady really swell apology jewelry.
A lot of cinephiles (especially the fellas) seem blown away by what many of them are referring to as the "cutting" truths in (500) Days of Summer. They are able to celebrate those truths separately from the rest of the turgid pap. But for me, it is those cutting truths that hold an accusing knife up to the throat of the rest of the film, beseeching it, red-faced, "How could you?!"
"How could you?!" is what I should've shouted out at the post-screening Q & A I attended during the Los Angeles Film Festival, since that's how I felt when the lights came up. The sad truth? Hearing the writers, director and two leads elaborate on the film's production only made me lose more respect for their efforts.
For instance, one of the writers explained that the split-screen party scene -- arguably the most powerful segment of the film -- was only written in *after* the studio suits demanded more doubt in the outcome of the tale.
OK. So who cares what inspired the idea as long as it was a good one? *I* care because it illuminates the fact that one of the few winning moments in the movie occured as a matter of chance. A lucky break. Sure, that happens a lot in creative endeavors, but it holds an accusing mirror up to the three-quarters of the film that represent an all-you-can-eat buffet of boilerplate bullshit. The writers' best work was *forced* out of them, in a sense. It wasn't organically born out of an original vision.
The writer went on to say that the julienned timeline of the 500 days (which I found distracting and distancing) was never meant to be a gimmick, yet a few breaths later he revealed that he and his writing partner originally didn't think anyone would want to watch their movie if the timeline wasn't sliced and diced. So it *was* a gimmick, sir. And that's *exactly* what it feels like. And if it wasn't in place, the flaws in the film would be harder to ignore.
My beef is becoming clearer: Mediocrity and manipulation meet cute.
Then comes the uninspired direction. Another Q & A revelation shines a fog light on this criticism. The director pointed out that since Zooey has two beautiful swimming pools on her face, they themed her clothing and environs in blue to match her limpid eyes. "Blue was the only primary color in the film," he announced proudly. Wow, um. So I'm not looking for Wong Kar-Wai palettes, but c'mon! You matched the actress's eyes? This was your aesthetic vision, dude? What. The. Hell.
Now you may fairly accuse me of getting too granular in my hatred at this point. Fine. Most romantic comedies don't bother with aesthetic visions. Blue is a wonderful color. Blue never did no one no harm. Honey child, it ain't the blue. What bothers me is what that statement reveals about the lack of imagination that went into making this film. The lack of imagination that takes up the overwhelming percentage of its running time. The lack of imagination that so many will embrace and cherish.
All of which makes me a heartless douchebag, right?
But at least I'm a heartless douchebag with enough romance in my heart to believe that we deserve better as filmgoers. And I'm digging my heels in and holding out for it.
Holding out for what exactly, you ask?
All. The. Potential. In. The. World.