April 17, 2009

Such a heavenly way to die

Just the other day, my friend Sasha and I were lamenting the fact that 500 Days of Summer wasn’t going to come out until July. July, ARGH. How could we possibly wait that long to see the adorable Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the “anti-romantic comedy” that’s been getting solidly positive reviews from Sundance and SXSW? Did I mention it’s directed by Marc Webb, my all-time favorite music video director (he did “Helena” and “The Ghost of You,” among others, for My Chemical Romance, Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity,” Evanescence’s “Call Me When You’re Sober” and “Good Enough” and a whole host of other videos amazing three-minute movies). Seriously, if you watch only one of those videos I linked, watch “The Ghost of You.” It’s possibly my favorite music video of all time.

Anyway, this showed up on my Twitter homepage yesterday as the “secret of the day” from Secrets of the City (@secretsday):
Today's Secret: Film Fetish: The MSP International Film Fest http://tinyurl.com/cprc9w

As I said multiple times yesterday, I’m so glad I clicked on that link. Turns out 500 Days of Summer was slated to open the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival last night, some three months before it comes out nationwide. UM, YES PLEASE. (By the by, the fest’s website might be down from time to time if lots of people are using it; I got a “bandwidth exceeded” message when trying to check info before the screening yesterday.)


Here’s the setup: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a romantic. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is not—she doesn’t even believe that love exists. So you can imagine how things play out when Tom sees Summer and immediately believes she’s The One (even though she doesn't want to be anybody's girlfriend). We see their relationship play out as we jump forward and backward through the titular five hundred days, with a counter bringing us from awkward elevator chitchat to pancake dinner breakup and up and down again.

The beginning of the film is the middle of the story: immediately following the breakup, we see the emotionally destroyed Tom dispassionately smashing dinner plates while his concerned friends (Geoffrey “Snozzberries” Arend and Matthew “Supervisory Special Agent Doctor Spencer Reid” Gray Gubler) and full-of-legitimately-good-advice little sister coax him down off the metaphorical ledge. Only after Little Sis tells Tom to “start from the beginning” do we get the beginning of the story. The back-and-forth timeline is a dangerous thing and could so easily have backfired and gone horribly wrong, but Webb and the writers (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) execute it perfectly. Geoffrey Arend, who was at the screening and did a short Q&A afterward, said that Webb had a huge scroll mapping out the timeline precisely the way it appeared in the screenplay and how it subsequently translated to the screen, which is one of the best behind-the-scenes factoids I've heard.

The interweaving timeline was much more interesting and dynamic than a straight-line narrative would have been and it was a nice way to move between the very heavy emotional weight of the post-breakup days and the light, happy falling-in-love days (including the musical number!) without getting overwhelmed by one or the other.

Speaking of music, I loved the way Webb used it to drive the film. It's not surprising that the guy who directed basically every music video I've loved in the past ten years would incorporate music seamlessly into his first feature film (plus, most of his videos look more like mini-movies than, say, McG's brand of frenetic flash). There's a great soundtrack including Regina Spektor, The Smiths, one of my favorite Feist songs (“Mushaboom”), and even a song by Carla Bruni (yes, First Lady of France Carla Bruni Sarkozy). /Film has the full list here. There's some great drunken karaoke scenes that 1) are hilarious, and 2) make me glad I have yet to get so drunk I'm willing to do karaoke. (And yes, Zooey Deschanel does some singing.)

The acting is uniformly good—Joseph Gordon-Levitt is funny and heartbreaking and all kinds of good things as Tom; Zooey Deschanel conveys the right blend of cute and hesitant and a little sad (and has a touch of the inflection sister Emily Deschanel uses as Dr. Temperance Brennan of Bones when explaining Summer's nickname “Anal Girl”); Arend and Gubler are good as Tom's friends and Chloe Moretz manages to stay on the right side of the precocious/creepily precocious line as little sister Rachel.

On a different note, I want all of Zooey's outfits from this movie. Well, except the high-waisted pants. But everything else was gorgeous.

To make a long story short (all together now: too late), I really, really liked the movie. I may have even loved it. It made me laugh, it made me care about the characters, it made me ooh and ahh over the great art direction and set dressing. Like the narrator says at the beginning: this is not a love story. It's a story about love. That distinction makes it different (the anti-romcom, see?) and interesting: that Hollywood ending almost never happens, but what does happen so much more often is lovely and worthwhile and important all on its own, and that's the story that 500 Days of Summer tells.

Strongly, strongly, strongly recommended.

Some general info about the film festival (MSPIFF) itself: the full catalog of films being shown can be found in PDF format at the website (or here, but it's infinitely easier to read in a hard copy, which you can find at the Oak St. Theater if you're on or near the U of MN campus, or they'll probably have copies at screenings (most of which are at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis). I'm going to try to hit a couple screenings, if only because it supports Minnesota Film Arts.

I haven't taken a close look at everything, but I know the ridiculously hard-to-track-down How to Be, starring RPattz, is showing on Monday at 7:15pm at St. Anthony Main with the following note: “Cast and Crew Present for Screening and After Party!

Now, I'm 99% certain that Pattinson is in Canada shooting New Moon/Eclipse (are they shooting simultaneously? I don't know), so I'm also 99% certain he won't be there. Downside: no getting to see The Hair in person. Upside: probably fewer squeeful teenage girls and more tickets available. But the movie looked interesting anyway, so I might go.

Having written all that, I feel a little like a pretentious hipster.
Oh, God, what if I am a pretentious hipster?

I hope not.


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