(500) Days of Zoey

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500-days-of-summer
When Rent was just a little Off-Broadway musical it got a lot of criticism. Eventually that criticism gave way to praise and obsessive repeat viewing but it started out strong. The main difficulty that so-called connoisseurs had with the show was that Jonathan Larson wouldn’t pick a style. He had rock songs, a tango, recitatives, a little R&B, some rap, even some full on gospel. Perhaps the only gospel song ever written to include sodomy, the Wizard of Oz and Pee Wee Herman. (500) Days of Summer isn’t a powerhouse piece for the ages as Rent has proven to be but I fear it will run across the same version of doubt.

My personal response to the style critique for both is that the range of styles works because it’s a clear choice and each change in style is done for a reason and very carefully thought out. Larson used a tango to highlight class and sexuality differences in a relationship. Director Mark Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber use split screen viewing to point up the space between our realities and our expectations. There’s animation, voice over, even a musical number nearly straight out of 9-5. It’s the sort of variety one never expects out of a romance. At most we get an A and a B story line shuffled together to satisfy our shortening attention spans (See: Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist [which by the way I loved and can’t believe I didn’t write about here]).

(500) Days of Summer is a romance. It’s being billed as a “backward” one or “different,” implying a brand new sort of a thing you’ve never seen before, even though we all know that as much as every romance is unique we have seen it all before. (500) Days does shoot from a different angle, though. (HERE’S WHERE THE SPOILERS BEGIN. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.) Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the romantic, planning a whole life with a woman the first time he sees her across a room and Summer (Zoey Deschanel) could care less. She’s not looking for a wedding or kids or even a regular bowling partner. She is willing to concede, for a time, that she is having fun and that she’s having fun. We, the audience, are warned from the outset that they will not end up together. It didn’t keep me from hoping, though.

The movie falls down for me on a seemingly minor casting issue. The cast is fabulous, that is, of course, not the problem. I could have done with much more of Hansen’s sister (Chloe Moretz) and his two best friends (Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler). Gordon-Levitt is as good or better than any actor should be who trained on the job with John Lithgow and Jane Curtin. He’s an actor I keep watching to see if he’s going to falter. Will he get into a rut, make poor choices, get too full of himself? So far he has not, he’s simply getting better with every step and I delight in the anticipation of what he’ll do next.

In the title role Zoey Deschanel…do you know her? She is luminous. The role was, I assume, written for her and every moment of the movie is engineered to draw you into her sphere, even the moments where Summer is being an ass. How anyone can watch ZD up there and not want to get closer and closer to her until you are swallowed up is a mystery to me. And that’s where the casting gets it completely wrong in my opinion. True to the warning Tom and Summer do not end up together. Not even close. But it’s a romance, you protest, we must have a happy ending in a romance! Yes, we must and Neustadter and Weber give it to us in the form of a new woman. Gordon-Levitt meets Minka Kelly of Friday Night Lights fame and the screen gets brighter and a bluebird lands on his shoulder and credits roll. We have, however, just spent over an hour falling in love with Deschanel, relentlessly, inevitably, torturously in love. Ms. Kelly, a delightful, light and engaging young woman, could not possibly begin to compare, not even if she had more than four minutes of screen time. For the audience to follow Tom’s journey these actresses needed to have switched roles. Summer needs to be someone whose brilliance overpowers us but equally she needs to be able to fade in our eyes so we believe that moving on is possible, nay wonderful. Moving on from Mistress Zoey after the filmmakers have created what can only be described as a celluloid shrine to her is preposterous.

I still think you should go see the movie. I’d see it again. Why would I pass up a chance to spend 90 minutes falling for La Z? Just be prepared, as Tom Hansen should have been, for disappointment in the end.

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One Response to “(500) Days of Zoey”

  1. JCK Says:

    You’ve got a good thing going here, Kizz. This movie really sounds fun.

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