Go with a smile!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

Just watched (500) Days of Summer. I hadn't dropped by the company clubhouse's VCD collection for a long time and when I did I was amused to find that there were only 3 VCDs that I really wanted to watch. I suppose they haven't been making a lot of acquisitions lately.

A real boon for VCDs would be if all of them came with subtitles. The picture quality is so so only but OK. The worst is the muffled sound and you can't really hear the dialogue, so you sorda have to guess what's going on. Well luckily this one has subtitles! Yay!

Anyway (500) Days of Summer is a great movie. No, actually it is merely an excellent one, but what makes it special is that it really reminded me of my own experiences. Seasoned readers of my blog should know who I'm talking about (and in case it's not absolutely clear, no, it's not about Teapot).

The premise of the plot is simple. Boy loves girl, girl doesn't really love boy, they part. They tell you the ending in the beginning so you already know that. Even the title tells you that they broke up in the end. So it's not the outcome, but the process, which is the point of the tale.

If you want to watch it, go ahead. It's good. The leads are likeable (this is very important in a romantic comedy. Zooey Deschanel is gorgeous, even though she's a little distant and cold as well. The guy, can't remember his name, has that constant tortured look on his face that you see on Bryan Robson every time he's reminded that he'll never be as good a manager as he was a player. What follows are spoilers.

All this is familiar: the guy falls for her, then denies that he's in love with her. All the same he's a pain in the ass to his friends who have to deal with some of his emotional baggage. The guys warn him about her. Is she attractive? Yes she is. The balance of power in the relationship is tilted towards her? Yes. Would they have made great friends, if you forget the love bit? Probably. The way they play acted as real lovers was familiar. Even the arguments they had - whether or not he could be called a "boyfriend" - are familiar. Even "Let's not put labels on anything" sounds very very familiar. Even the singing of Clash's "Train in Vain", which was something I listened to quite a few times when she left, is familiar.

There were a lot of good reviews for this movie, and evidently this was one that touched many hearts. There was even a centre spread on my paper that complained that this movie was overlooked by the Oscars. That's a bit of an exaggeration but it's true that romantic comedies get short shrift at the Oscars. There is a lot of this movie that is smart and funny and true, and when you take away that pretty indie-art flourishes and stylish touches, it still has a real heart underneath. The few that dissented complained that the movie does not say anything that's already been said before. While this might be true, all romantic comedies are done to death. Together with the action movie, this is one genre that has been over-saturated. Then again, to paraphrase Tolstoy, "All happy relationships are happy in the same way, but all unhappy relationships are unhappy in their own unique way." This was the justification for his writing yet another book about families. But it's a valid one.

The twist in the movie is how some of the nuances have changed. It was said at the beginning that the guy believed in a one true love, whereas the girl didn't. At the end, we'll see, the truth is somewhat different. Some people have criticised the movie for focusing exclusively on the guy's point of view, but as somebody's noted, Zooey's is a static character, somebody who doesn't change or grow throughout the movie. If there is any mystery to her, it's only because the guy is so smitten with her that he can't see clearly. Otherwise, by the end of the story, we can piece together what she's like.

From the guy's point of view, she was stringing him along all this time. She was using him for her ego, sending him mixed signals, alternating between pushing him away and pulling him back with some physical affection.

From the girl's perspective, it's simple: she likes him a lot, but mostly as a friend. As with all my best friends, I don't want him to leave, but I don't want him to be my boyfriend either. I'll wait for him to realise his mistakes. I don't have a problem with that, but she should not have been intimate with him. Maybe she wanted to convince herself that they could be lovers, since he believed in that so badly. Is she a cold robot, as he accused her of being? An equally valid argument could blame him for being too stubborn to read all the signals. She was presented as being somebody who loves her hair, but also loves how she could cut it off. Beautiful women get to pick and choose and they can seem awfully cold if and when they exercise this privilege.

So the twist is: even though she professes not to believe in true love, she's the one that gets married in the end. They even give a hint of this happening when they both attend a wedding and she catches the bride's bouquet. (In angmoh culture the person who catches the bouquet is the next to get married.) She believed in true love after all. She met THE ONE not long after she left the guy. It wasn't that she didn't believe in love: he was just not the right one for her. It was the central issue underlying everything that took place in the movie, and yet it had been glossed over time and again. Either way, he should have seen the light, and let her go.

A few scenes showed them dating ogether, and there were already some subtle hints that they weren't getting along: watch how many times he makes fun of her for choosing Ringo Starr as her favourite Beatle. Watch how he seems to be having a great time, and is seemingly nonchalent to the fact that she's not feeling the same way. And if women end up saying cruel things in the end, sometimes it's the only way the guy's going to take the hint and leave.

Therein lies one great disadvantage of being a chiobu. You attract the wrong company, the guys who think with their dicks. He really really enjoys your company, but he's also not thinking hard enough about whether you're compatible.

The events are presented non-linearly, and I was glad I was watching this on VCD, because I was then able to piece together the general gist of it all: the first hundred days were total bliss. 200-300 were when all the cracks started appearing. They met again between 400-500, although she neglected to tell him that she was already seeing somebody else and later got engaged. And it was at this, most bitter period that he had to put his life back together.

500 days is roughly 1.5 years, also approximately the span of my whole involvement with the girl in my version. But for me the first 100-200 days had quite a bit of chasing. But similarly, it was not until day 500 that I managed to pull myself together.

Towards the end, the show made for uncomfortable watching. The guy was practically a wreck. It probably wasn't so bad for me but it was still uncomfortable. Unfortunately or fortunately I was distracted by the travails of living in a foreign country. It took a long long time for the guy to recognise that he should let it go and cut loose. For me, I knew almost right from the start that this was going to be a short term relationship - I was only in it for experience points. But I got sucked in and carried away, and gradually believe that there could be a happy ending. This was not to be so and I had to revert to my original beliefs, although by that time, it was harder than I had imagined to let go.

Then there is the very obvious difference that our relationship was carried out in cyberspace rather than in real life. But the close reading of her words, the scanning of them, reading between the lines for anything hopeful - that transcends whether this is cyberspace or not.

It was a happy ending for the girl in the movie, but not in my case. In my case, the girl got married, but it wasn't a happy ending. And the girl in my case, intelligent though she is, never had as level a head as Zooey's character.

I thought about what it meant for him to be a greeting card writer. Was he supposed to be an expert at manufacturing illusions? Are greeting cards necessarily insincere? Or was he in love with a shiny cold surface, the same surface you see on a greeting card? Was their love meant to be as beautiful and colourful and ultimately disposable as a greeting card? Why does he switch back to architecture? Is this a sign that his next love will be more meaningful and lasting? LA is not the first place you would think of for great architecture, but this movie has done a great job showing the artier side of the city, as opposed to our stereotypical notions of it as a vast cultural wasteland.

He finds some chick in an interview, vying for his position. And he feels a spark, thinks that something could happen in a place like this. The girl's name is Autumn. Heh heh.

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Blogger Nat said...

Incidentally, Zooey is also singing. Not a great voice, but she seems like a talented chick. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She_&_Him

11:32 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Yeh, as a regular reader of Pitchfork.com, I have heard of She and Him. Musicians have become actors with more success (David Bowie, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey, Nico) than the other way around.

But there are people like Milla Jovovich and Zooey, so good for them!

3:05 AM

Blogger Nat said...

Nilla Johovic is a bad singer and an even worse actor. Well she is hot and that helps a lot :D

9:30 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

I think she made a pretty decent album. Even when you discount the fantastic front (not hers but still...).

OK, maybe her acting's not fantastic.

I also think about people like Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp. You may not know that they also made music, and I have not cited them earlier to spare them embarrassment.

Another singer, Bjork, crossed over into acting, did such a great job that she won Best Actress at Cannes. Unfortunately, she met an asshole director and decided to end her acting career. This is partially why I don't like Lars Von Trier.

12:51 PM


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