Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is not a love story - (500) Days of Summer

Before I begin, a disclaimer. Generally, I really don't like what passes for romantic comedy these days. I'll make an exception to this rule if a movie includes Simon Pegg and a blood-stained cricket bat. If there's a chance that Hugh Grant might bumble onto the screen, you'd have to bludgeon me with a blood-stained cricket bat to keep me in my seat.

You see, the overwhelming majority of romantic comedies are neither romantic nor comedic. On the whole, they're lazy by-the-numbers retreads of things you've seen done many times before, and better. They seem to exist solely to give Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson some semblance of a career. The startling lack of imagination in this virulent, mulitplex-infecting genre even extends to the advertising campaigns. The posters go a little something like this: The two leads against a white background. Leaning against something invisible. Smirking. Faces you want to punch repeatedly.

All of which is just a preamble to say that (500) Days of Summer is genuinely both funny and romantic. And, refreshingly, it dispenses with the depressing inevitably of a "they lived happily ever after" ending by setting you straight up front. A voiceover tells you what to expect - "This is not a love story" - and one of the first things we see is the aftermath of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel's failed relationship at the straggling end point of their 500 days together. The film then scrolls backwards and forwards along the timeline, using numbered title-cards denoting which day of the relationship we are at, shuffling and juggling them so that the good days are juxtaposed with the bad, nascent passion rapidly mutating into devastating heartbreak and back again.

"A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order." Jean-Luc Godard

What else has (500) Days of Summer got?

It's got two exceptional central performances from a pair that haven't appeared on screen together since Jordan Melamed's criminally under-seen Manic. (Levitt really does look more and more like Heath Ledger with every passing year. Someone should tell Christopher Nolan that we've found his next Joker.*) As much as Levitt brings a spot-on lightness of touch to his role, Deschanel is the one with the tougher act to pull off. She has to be convincingly and simultaneously plausible as both the ideal dream woman and as an icily-detached and insensitive bitch, without once ever sliding into a hackneyed stereotype of the Kooky Chick. The truth, of course, is something more complex and believable than either extreme, as the film's accretion of details reveals as it progresses.

It's got a full-blown song-and-dance number to the Hall & Oates tune You Make My Dreams.

It's got a lovely spot of flirtation centred around the theme tune from Knight Rider.

It's got wit, charm and inventiveness. It's got to be worth 95 minutes of your time.

The only thing (500) Days of Summer needs now is an audience. Make sure that it has one.

(500) Days of Summer is released in the UK on 2nd September. Thanks to the gang at Jam for the screening. And whilst you're waiting for the movie to rock up at your local popcorn palace, have a play making yourself a virtual C90 at the nifty (500) Days of Summer Mixtape site.

*I totally stole this observation from @ControlB. Sorry, Brett