On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
The independent film “(500) Days of Summer” is as refreshing as hot air. It might be subtitled “The Dog Days of August.” It’s as independent as a hula-hoop.
“(500) Days of Summer” was cheered by sweaty reviewers at the Sundance Film Festival. At the time, it may have been a welcome respite amidst the usual swelter of harrowing independent films.
It has the staples of independent success. It’s cute, coy and contrived. It has an attractive cast, good music, film allusions and a precocious little sister. But it’s as formulaic and calculating as the Hallmark greeting cards to which it feigns superiority.
“(500) Days of Summer” begins by introducing Tom Hansen as a boy who is wrong about love, because he “totally misread” the ending of the movie “The Graduate.” Huh? How so? Maybe the narrator misread Tom’s misreading. Or something like that. Where is Morgan Freeman when we need him?
We are told by the narrator (Jean-Paul Vignon) that the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) will not work out, so this puts a heavy burden on the characterization.
At a greeting card company where both work, Tom meets Summer Finn — Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn? Or Finn may refer to “more fish in the ocean,” to which the film often refers.
The whole film is a long joke until another girl reveals the punchline, her name. It’s a shaggy dog story.
The shaggiest dog is the character of Summer. Tom falls head over cliches in love with her. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want a long-term relationship. But they slog on.
Summer is supposed to be independent, but she seems more a simple soul than a woman of mystery. The writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, graduated from writing “Pink Panther 2.” So, it is no surprise they lack wit.
Their idea of making Summer independent is that her favorite Beatle is Ringo. Would you want to date a girl whose favorite Beatle is Ringo? Would you want to date these writers?
Summer’s idea of fun is to sit on a park bench and yell the word “penis.” Great times. If somehow you didn’t get your fill of penis references in “Funny People,” here’s a knee-slapper for you.
Maybe 2010 will be the year of hysterical clitoral comedy.
The thing that most disheartened me about “(500) Days of Summer” is that it wasted the talent of Gordon-Leavitt. He is fine in the role of Tom, but it’s no challenge. Any of Judd Apatow’s stable of plow horses could perform the role.
When the stunning “Mysterious Skin” was released in 2004, Gordon-Leavitt blew me away with his brilliant, bold, very human performance as a misbegotten male prostitute. At that time I predicted that someday he would win an Academy Award.
In 2005 Gordon-Leavitt carried “Brick,” and in 2007 he shone as a damaged soul in “The Lookout.” But, still, no breakout. His gliding through “(500) Days of Summer” will make him better known, but at what cost? Robert Redford was never again the actor he was after the success of “The Way We Were.”
Deschanel is a one-dimensional actress (like Sarah Palin). I almost expected Zooey to wink at me. Deschanel was the cute love interest in “Elf,” but she gave an awful performance deserving of a Golden Raspberry last year in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.” She’s on the edge of vapidity.
Chloe Moretz is patently adorable as Tom’s sage little sister.
Director Marc Webb directs his first feature after a career directing music videos, e.g., Ashlee Simpson’s “Didn’t Steal Your Boyfriend.”
Webb is like an earnest film school grad, including second-rate allusions to Godard and Bergman, and referencing “Song of the South.” His sequence showing Tom’s love euphoria is as corny as anything from Hallmark.
Webb tries to have it both ways. He’s pro-Hallmark and anti-Hallmark at the same time. Tom writes, “I love us” for a card, and later rails against greeting cards.
This melange is humid. Summer falls.