500 Days of Summer (2009)

Death by Numbers

Boy, how frustrating it is to have a movie that is near perfect in some respects but broken in others, especially when it has the potential to do things.

This has the potential because it is a love story that bends the expectations for movie romance more toward the ebbs and flows of real life. In breaking this habit of expectations it uses a clever device: it breaks the narrative, giving you a numeric scale. This is handled effectively because the film establishes a space for us outside the flow, populated by us and a narrator.

There is another device, used less expertly: architecture. The setup is that our guy is not a whole man romantically because he is trapped in a traditional romantic comedy sort of world. He literally works for a metaphorically apt greeting card company, generating fantasy. This is as opposed to the more three dimensional world he sees and appreciates but has yet to commit to. We are reminded of this whenever we enter that neutral narrator’s space because the timeline is a number over an “architectural drawing” of his more mature self.

It should have worked. It surely was well enough considered and has a first class place in the film. But the problem is that the filmmaker did not understand architectural dynamics well enough to use them. What he thinks is architecture is the grouping of buildings you see when sitting on a park bench and mapping the three dimensional experience to a two dimensional drawing. This is as great a mistake as being in the greeting card business and sort of poisons the dynamic that this is supposed to support.

But I count it a plus that they knew about the dynamic and tried even though they didn’t actually capture it.

The thing that doesn’t work in my opinion is the girl. I’ve just seen another film, much more ambitious that Zooey anchored. She mastered the thing with a practiced stance at being outside the reaction of self without being within a state of self knowledge. Here, she is supposed to be ubercute but secure in action, something not normal in film woman. But she cannot pull it off: either she is earnest or she is submissively appearing, or she is in control of her life but never all three at once. And this is what we need.

In fact, in the midst of our hero’s depression, he has a blind date with an attractive redhead played by Rachel Boston. (Why are so many secondary redhead actresses named Rachel?) She is better at this synthesis than Zooey, but perhaps that was deliberate.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *