Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Ghoul Versus 500 Days Of Summer

Ghoul Vs. Expectations Vs. Reality!”

(500) Days Of Summer was the little indie picture that could, clawing its way from a Sundance debut all the way the a nationwide release.  It also launched the Hollywood careers of Marc Webb, who would go on to direct the blockbuster Amazing Spider-Man reboot franchise, and the writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who are currently causing theaters across the country to drown in oceans of tears with the film The Fault In Our Stars.

It also helped raise the profile of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, giving him his true box office hit and springboarding him into all kinds of great movies.  It even helped co-star Zooey Deschanel wash off most of the stink of her previous movie, a notorious "Hey, my bills aren't going to pay themselves" effort called The Happening. Yes, you can expect a review of that cinematic “delight” in the near future.

Needless to say, this movie was a hit and very beneficial to everyone involved with it.  Does that mean it's a rom-com that actually has QUALITY?  Or was this just another "boy meets girl" story that tricked everyone with a bunch of witty hipster writing?  Put on your favourite Joy Division album and settle in for A Ghoul Versus 500 Days Of Summer!

The film opens with a title card informing us this is a work of fiction and that any similarities to living or dead people is just a coincidence. That's usually at the end of credits, isn't it? Another title card says “Especially you, Jenny Beckman”, followed up by “Bitch”.  Zing!  This story is going to be told in the pretty standard "indie nonlinear format", where we'll see 500 days of a relationship completely out of order. It opens with day 488, with our leads Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel) sitting on a bench in the park.

A narrator introduces them with a quick back story for each. Tom believes he'll never be happy until he meets “the one”. He got this belief from an early exposure to sad British pop music and a complete misunderstanding of the movie the Graduate.  Summer does not believe in love at all due to the rough divorce of her parents.  The narrator concludes this scene telling us this is a story of “boy meets girl, but is not a love story”.

Day 290, we start right after Summer has just broken up with Tom. Tom is in his apartment breaking dishes, his friends McKenzie and Paul calling his little sister Rachel to talk him down. And I do mean little sister, she's 12 years old but is the smartest kid in the world.

Day 1, Summer starts her job at greeting card company where Tom works. He is instantly smitten with her, this infatuation only growing when he learns she likes the same kind of music he does.  We learn Tom went to school to be an architect but that did not work out so he's been writing greeting cards the last few years, which is an odd career path to say the least.

Later we see Tom is telling Rachel about all about Summer. Rachel gives us this gem: “Just because some cute girl likes all the same bizarro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate.” I love Rachel already!

Day 28, the entire office is at a karaoke bar. Summer is sitting with Tom and McKenzie, who is quite drunk. He is using his inebriated state to get away with asking her all sorts of really personal questions, all obviously on Tom's behalf since Tom still hasn't mustered the courage to ask Summer out.

We learn Summer has no interest in having a boyfriend, as she likes being on her own and doesn't want to belong to anyone. You can see Tom's face falling with every word she speaks. He finally asks what happens if she falls in love, which she outright tells him she doesn't believe in such a thing.

At the end of the night as they load McKenzie into a taxi cab, he blurts out that Tom likes Summer. She asks if it's true, Tom awkwardly saying yes. She asks as friends or something more, and he says friends even though you can tell it's killing him to not tell the truth. However he is still too scared to expose himself like that, even though it's very obvious Summer wants him to say more than friends.

Day 31, Summer kisses Tom in the office copy room and then leaves. He is stunned.

Day 34, they go on a date. Upfront she tells Tom she's not looking for anything serious, which he says is okay. They end up having sex that night. The next day Tom is shown having best day of his life, ecstatic from the night before. Checking out his reflection in a window, he finds Han Solo staring back at him.  LUCKY!  His joy erupts into a huge song and dance number, even complete with cartoon bluebird.  It is a spectacular sequence, putting even the Austin Powers movies to shame. 

Day 303, we watch a completely miserable Tom going through the motions of his day.

Day 109, Summer takes Tom to her apartment for first time. The narrator says this is Tom's first time in Summer's world, as he's starting to get past walls she's erected around herself.

Day 118, Tom gets advice from his sister while attending her soccer game. He wants to make his relationship with Summer more serious but is hesitant about asking her. Rachel tells him to do it and not be a pussy. I now totally get why she was cast as the most lethal kid in history of ever in the movie Kick Ass.

Later Tom asks Summer what's going on with their relationship, Summer replying she doesn't know but she's happy and that's all that matters.  Tom is kinda stupid for not listening to this.

Day 259, Tom gets into a fight with a jerk at a bar that's hitting on Summer, which really upsets her that he acted this way.  Summer says they're just friends which sets him off and he storms off. Later she comes to his place, apologizing for getting mad at him. He tells her they don't have to label their relationship but he'd like some consistency. Summer replies she can't give him that.  OPEN YOUR EARS TOM.

We go through a series of the 300 days, where we see how depressed Tom has become and the effect it's having on his life and job.

Day 402, Tom is taking a train to co-worker's wedding where he runs into Summer. They catch up and have a lot of fun, ending with her inviting him to party she's having on Friday

Day 408, we start off with the male characters of our film talking about their dream girl. Everyone has an opinion except Tom, who can't think of anything to say. Tom heads to party as we get a split screen effect of his expectations vs. his reality. His expectations are he and Summer will reconnect, while reality is him pretty much drinking alone while Summer talks to everyone else at the party. It's not until he sees Summer showing off her engagement ring to a friend does he realize what's going on and leaves, nearly in tears.

Day 442, Tom comes off a two day episode where he's been living off alcohol and junk food. He has a breakdown at his job and quits.

Day 450, Tom again meets with Rachel at her soccer game. Rachel doesn't think Summer was “the one” and that Tom is just remembering the good stuff only. She wisely advises him to look at his past with Summer again, which he does. Through a flashback montage, he does start to remember that it wasn't all happy like he thought it was.

Days 456-476 cover Tom getting back into architecture and trying to get a job while Summer gets married.

Day 488, we catch up to where movie began, with Tom and Summer on the bench. Tom guesses he should say congratulations, but she tells him not to say it if he doesn't mean it. He says she really should have told him at the wedding about her engagement but she informs him her husband hadn't asked her yet. 

Tom can't understand Summer's marriage and she tells him she woke up one day and knew what she was never sure about with him. This shatters Tom, as he tears up and looks away from Summer. He tells her it sucks realizing that love is bullshit, but she says he WAS right about love.

It just wasn't me that you were right about.”

DAYMN!  Brutal stuff.  She leaves, and he sincerely tells her that he hopes she's happy.

Day 500, Tom is in waiting room of a company for an interview, talking to another woman there who is interviewing for the same job. She mentions seeing him at the park but he's never seen her before. She says he must not have been looking. They hit it off and he asks her out to coffee.  She agrees and introduces herself as Autumn. Tom smiles and looks at us directly through the camera as a new counter pops up telling us it's day one.

Cue the credits, set to Mumm-Ra's epic song “She's Got You High”.

This was an interesting story in the way it twisted a traditional “boy meets girl” love story we've all seen thousand times over, where boy wins over girl because he loves her oh so much and thus deserves her like she's a trophy to be won. The vast majority of movies would have had Tom and Summer reconnect at wedding, rather than Summer getting engaged to someone else.

My issue with the movie is Tom is portrayed way too sympathetic the entire time, especially in the later parts of the movie when he's sole focus. A lot of this is due to what an awesome actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is and how just naturally makes you feel for him, even when he's acting like complete self-absorbed asshole.

Tom is not a very good guy and certainly isn't “hero” of this movie. He's pretty shallow and selfish, which is hard to see sometimes the way the movie tries to make us feel sorry for him when he's the one responsible for his misery and not Summer.  From the very beginning and almost every other scene, Summer explicitly tells him she doesn't want anything serious. Tom says he's fine with that, but very early on it's quite obvious he wants more from her and ignores her constantly when she says she doesn't want anything more.

Speaking of which, I feel one of movie's biggest mistakes is not showing Summer's side of story. While she wasn't in love with Tom, she still had feelings for him and considered him her best friend. She still would have felt pain from him shutting her out of his life. We never get to see any of this.

One thing film did that make Summer come off bad was her engagement party. Summer couldn't have called Tom and told him in advance? Or even told him at the wedding she was seeing someone? She was perceptive enough at the karaoke bar to know he had feelings for her, she was unable to sense that those feelings were woken up at the wedding? This lapse in writing is the only scene that actually makes Summer look bad and the “villain” as I imagine many think her to be.

Compounding the problem is Tom has completely idealized Summer to where she's not even a person anymore, but just his fantasy come to life. I really liked the part where Rachel basically tells him this when she has him remember not everything was all sunshine and rainbows, that Summer wasn't perfect at all.

The scene where the male leads describe their perfect girl are very telling, as Tom can't think of a single thing to say. He's more into his fantasy of being in love rather than what that actually entails, like almost every lead in every romantic movie ever. His obsession over the Graduate illustrates this as well (a film with a lead character that shares similarities to him). His relationship with Summer was based off nothing but her physical attractiveness and the fact she liked some of the same stuff he did, which Rachel also helpfully points out for us.

Some might complain about Rachel being all knowing in this movie, but I really feel she's out there to counter the narrator who is undeniably biased towards Tom's perspective over Summer's. I feel the narrator might even be Tom the way he talks sometimes, especially in the scene where he talk about “breaking through her walls” when he visits her apartment for the first time. There are no walls, this is just an invention Tom makes up to convince himself that Summer must love him as much as he “loves” her.  We can hope at the end he's learned some lessons and will follow through with those on Autumn, which ends what is actually a fairly dark film on an optimistic note.

Issues with how Tom was portrayed aside, this was still a VERY good movie. The story misses some steps but overall is well done and a nice change of pace for this particular genre. The acting is pretty good, it is filmed brilliantly, and has an extremely fashionable sense of style (as long as you aren't put off by its undeniable “hipster” fashion), and the soundtrack is just divine. Easily best soundtrack to a film I've seen in years. I give it high recommendation to anyone, even if you aren't fan of “boy meets girl” rom-com movies.