is not the thing: (l-r) Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt
in (500) Days of Summer.
Days of Summer
by Marc Webb
It’s surprising to report that (500) Days of Summer,
a zippy little hipster romantic comedy (with a zippy hipster
soudtrack), earns those pretentious parentheses in the title.
The film is clever, but not so clever that it smirks at the
characters or audience. The occasional narrator may say at
the beginning, in stentorian movie-trailer-voice tones, that
“this is not a love story,” but he’s lying. It’s a love story.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a onetime aspiring young architect
who has settled for a job writing greeting cards. It suits
him, because he deeply believes that love, and finding “the
one,” will solve all his problems. Summer (Zooey Deschanel),
the boss’ new assistant at the greeting-card company, does
not believe in love, or finding “the one.” Because this is
a movie, and Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are the prettiest
people in said movie, they drift into a relationship. He says
it’s love. She won’t call it anything.
Tom is the more obviously deluded, but Summer has a streak
of destructive aimlessness that slowly emerges as we piece
together the out-of sequence cinematic shards the filmmakers
The latter is not a complaint. (500) Days of Summer
succeeds to a great extent because it’s relentlessly
nonlinear, and the time-jumps—even with the gimmick of framing
every sequence, minutes long or seconds short, with a graphic
counter so you know which of the 500 days is about to be shown—are
more artful than obvious. The blackout-length scenes allow
for plenty of comedy, too; the only other summer movie that
earned this many audience laughs was The Hangover.
(A very different kind of comedy, but equally succinct in
One of the pleasing things about (500) Days of Summer is
that the lead characters aren’t especially better or more
emotionally maladjusted than the people around them. Tom’s
pal McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) hasn’t had a relationship in
years, while Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) has had the same girlfriend
since elementary school. (In other words, they’re both fucked.)
The only tinny note is sounded by Tom’s smartass, advice dispensing
younger sister Rachel, and actress Chloe Moretz is so solid
in the part, you like her anyway, even if you don’t quite
forgive the writers.
Just like the average action film or the last Lord of the
Rings movie, (500) Days of Summer has multiple
endings. There’s the falling out of love ending; the sad realizations
ending; the final goodbye ending; and the did-they-or-didn’t-they-learn-a-goddamned-thing
ending. Since these provide useful insights—and are short
scenes—this isn’t annoying, as in, say, an actioner or that
last Lord of the Rings movie.
Days of Summer is ultimately ambiguous enough to please
both the sentimental and unsentimental, which is both necessary
(commercially) and problematic (dramatically). But it’s not
as disingenuous as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,
with that film’s hope-against-no-hope finale. You walk out
with a sense that Tom and Summer have infected each other
with their opposite beliefs, and that this is going to continue
to affect both of them, for good and ill.
Especially with Autumn on the horizon.
by Kathryn Bigelow
Years ago, I had a panic attack while reviewing Saving
Private Ryan, and it took supreme effort on my part to
reel it in. The cause? The very grim realization that my little
boys, then two and newborn, could someday be embroiled in
such grisliness as the Normandy invasion, and that I’d have
no way to protect them. That utter loss of control, an obvious
aspect of growing up and going one’s own way, never felt so
terrifying. I had a similar experience this week, watching
The Hurt Locker; only this time, it was because the
movie, about a team of explosive ordnance detonators, brought
home the dangers that my late father faced in World War II,
when it was his job to neuter underwater mines. One false
move, one tripped wire, and it would have been all over.
The men in The Hurt Locker live in an Iraq War where
politics are almost irrelevant. They are immersed in the bare
essentials of staying alive. While the gung-ho Sgt. William
James (Jeremy Renner) addresses each bomb situation like it’s
an intricate puzzle—like Hercule Poirot exercising the little
grey cells—his crew, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge
(Brian Geraghty) nervously point their weapons at any flicker
of movement, which could be insurgents or skeletal cats. Only
James has the real power of life and death, about which Sanborn
and Eldridge are all too well aware.
Later in the movie, James’ team finds out that he keeps a
box of electronics equipment—pieces of bombs he’s disabled—under
his cot. He finds the equipment fascinating, a signature of
some unknown deadly assailant, to which Sanborn sneers, “It’s
just Radio Shack.” But that box implies a lot more about James’
personality, the hurt and otherwise unknown feelings he keeps
crated up. A call home to a wife and baby ends with her calling
his name into the void that is the desert. Later, when James
is back home, we watch him adrift in the grocery store, no
longer cock of the walk but just another faceless cog. Clearly,
the thrill of the chase, the intensity of the act of disabling
bombs, defines James, gives him meaning that he cannot find
tending to his yard or playing with his son. It’s a characterization
very much like the archetypal westerners you’d see in Budd
Boetticher movies of the 1950s.
In addition to Renner, who flawlessly executes a very tricky
role, much credit should go to director Kathryn Bigelow, who
plunges us straight into this hot hell and never lets us duck
for cover. At all times, we are painfully aware of the odds
facing James and his men. We can feel the intense, sweaty
tension that James, donned in a protective suit of Kevlar
that looks like something out of Creature From the Black
Lagoon, exudes when encountering a particularly tricky
setup. When he removes said suit, in order to get a better
handle, literally, on a juiced-up car bomb, he reasons that
if he’s gonna die, he might as well be comfortable. We, however,
like Sanborn and Eldridge, are stung by his alarming disregard
of basic safety measures. At the same time, we can’t help
but admire the tenacity and sheer brilliance of the man with
the wire clippers. The Hurt Locker is a thrilling,
tense movie, one that delivers a cold hard punch to our collective
solar plexus, reminding us of the mundane and deadly threats
faced by those we send to do our fighting.
o’ Dicks Regained
by Judd Apatow
Some of the buzz around Judd Apatow’s new flick Funny People
could lead you to believe that the writer director has abandoned
the successful bromance beat (which he virtually owns).
Such buzz is misleading: Star Adam Sandler does not do for
Judd Apatow what Paul Thomas Anderson did for Adam Sandler.
Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love was a tightly constructed
movie, the very confined nature of which highlighted Sandler’s
surprising explosive capabilities as an actor. In a sense,
Sandler’s unexpected darkness and volatility was the whole
point of that earlier movie.
People skirts similar territory by casting Sandler as
comedian George Simmons, a super celebrity seeking to redress
years of irresponsibility and self-absorption after discovering
he has an odds-on terminal illness.
But the movie is not titled Remorseful People or Terminally
Ill Dude. So, despite the seemingly high stakes for Sandler’s
character, the real motion of the plot is carried by the interaction
of Sandler, Apatow go-to guy Seth Rogen and a bunch of, well,
Rogen is Ira Wright, a struggling stand-up hired by friendless
Simmons to keep him company in his illness. They, of course,
know a great many comedians and comic actors: Wright’s friends
are aspiring; Simmons’ are more recognizable (the movie is
a cameo fest: Paul Reiser, Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, Dave
Attell, etc., etc.).
And funny people, in this case, make for a pretty funny movie.
Both the character interactions and the scenes showing stand-ups
at work provide some laugh-out-loud moments. Apatow and his
crew have chops.
Which brings us back into familiar territory. Apatow is the
manchild’s auteur. His characters are at their best, their
most vibrant and engaging, when they are, in some views, at
their worst: juvenile, crass and potty-mouthed to the point
of seeming developmentally stunted.
Though Simmons makes what the viewer must assume to be sincere
attempts to come to terms with his illness and the possible
outcome, he doesn’t really, can’t really, evolve. In Apatow’s
world, the point isn’t really progress; it’s in the purity
of those early male bonds. Funny People is, if anything,
more true to that view than, say, Knocked Up.
Simmons’ gestures toward the ambiguous appeal of adult normalcy
largely fail, and his triumph, such as it is, has him regaining
the pre-celebrity comfort of swapping dick jokes with a bro.
Call it a cocktharsis.
Apatow, or one of his crew, likely would.