Caught a glimpse of this yesterday on the web:
The Cinemash idea – mashing up two distinct films into a “quriky” 3-5 minute byproduct – is particularly ingenious, and I’m sure it can’t hurt that MSN is behind the thing and able to hire the actors from one of the movies to play the parts. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Cinemash episodes, but the first one – mixing up 500 Days of Summer and Sid & Nancy is a pretty paltry affair that doesn’t move beyond the gimmicky idea behind combining the two films. It’s more one of the films being combined – 500 Days of Summer, the “hotly-anticipated” film, if you believe the waves of advertising behind it – is absolutely, rock-bottom terrible.
In April, I caught 500 Days of Summer at the Somerville Theatre, as it was screened as part of the IFFBoston. On that fateful evening, it was hard to verbalize my anger and resentment of the film beyond my hand doing a full-on collision with my forehead, repeatedly, while the film screened. Now, with some months behind me and the movie a week and a half away from opening up in theaters across the U.S., I think I might be able to articulate why I don’t like the film.
Just note, if you are considering seeing 500 Days of Summer, do not. With the price of movie tickets as high as they are, it would be a poor decision. Of course, the details are below. But, even if you heed my words with a grain of salt, I hope that you should at least observe them and try and understand where I’m coming from. Anyway, here goes:
In October 2008, The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday wrote a scathing article on the increasingly formulaized world of indie films. Entitled “From Indie Chic to Indie, Sheesh,” Hornaday was able to break-down the various variables and mathematical equations that, when combined just right, made an “indie film”:
Dysfunctional family? Try “Rachel Getting Married.” Disaffected teen? Meet “Donnie Darko.” Sexual taboos? “Tadpole’s” got ’em. Sly references to pop arcana and sardonic humor? Go, “Rushmore”! Hipper-than-thou soundtrack? Listen to “Garden State,” it’ll change your life. Llamas and recreational drug use are optional. An overarching tone of ironic detachment is not: Irony is to the indie what the horse is to the Western and the rain-slicked street is to the noir thriller.
Hornaday had a point, but her article came too soon (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, eat your heart out). Because the summer’s “biggest” “indie” “film,” aka 500 Days of Summer is the prime example of the formualized indie film, but in a completely homogenized and Hollywood lens. And it’s downright awful.
500 Days of Summer “boasts” the following pieces that have wriggled their way into indie films over the past decade or so (linked to the preceding, far superior film, where applicable):
*”Quirky” rom-comedy (be it Eternal Sunshine, Juno, Garden State)
*Non-linear style of storytelling (Eternal Sunshine)
*Narrative detours into the various character’s imaginations, films/images from their past, and various other sideline, eye-catching images (AmÃ©lie)
*Bright, colorful scenes, clothing, and images to match mood or simply standout (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, etc)
*Artistically-rendered and “unique” transition placeholders that match time of year/date with a particular thematic element (Juno, Rushmore)
*”Character-development” in supposedly “mundane” scenes (Lost In Translation, most films by Jim Jarmusch)
*”Quirky” indie soundtrack (Garden State)
*Unusual relationship with someone not the same age as the protagonist, wherein the main character derives something profoundly meaningful from the other person (in 500 Days, it’s Tom and his much younger sister to whom he goes to with all his life’s problems; Rushmore, Lost In Translation)
*”Quirky” female role (AV Club coined this term: Manic-Pixie Dream Girl, featured in movies such as Garden State, Eternal Sunshine, Juno, and practically anything some indie dude wrote)
*Little snippets of every-day talk that is meant to be something more meaningful (done with actual depth in some films by Richard Linklater)
*Scene in a karaoke bar where the main characters really connect (Lost In Translation)
*Random, yet somewhat consistent use of voice-over, sometimes ominous (used best in Adaptation, to a humorous degree)
*”Sweeping,” unorthodox cinematography that captures the city/surroundings of the film (Lost In Translation)
I could go on, but it’s exhausting. Truth be told, I could not find anything terribly unique to 500 Days of Summer at the end of the film’s screening.
So what’s so bad about a film that has all these elements? Truth be told, it’s sometimes forgivable when done well, but 500 Days of Summer isn’t done well – it’s a pure Hollywood, B-movie crap that’s pushed out every year, every month, every weekend, it no different than The Proposal.
The problem with this is that it’s advertised as something different, not your average film, not “A love story, but a story about love.” And that line says it all for the film; something that has the look of real depth, but is really hollow and shallow at the core. What does that phrase even mean? Not much quite frankly, and I’m not sure the people behind the movie even get it.
500 Days of Summer comes across like a vapid music video, one that sure is perty, but without any actual storytelling, character development, or memorable pieces to speak of. And yet, it tries so hard. Not to overly-criticize people, as I’m sure the folks behind the movie are probably quite nice and worked real hard on the movie. But, look at what they’ve done before the movie. Screenplay writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber only have one other completed film to their credit: the poorly-received and easily-damnable 2009 Pink Panther 2. Not even the original remake, the remake-sequel. And director Marc Webb’s previous works were straight-to-video movies about Jesse McCartney, 3 Doors Down, and some music videos. Not to downplay music video directors: some of my favorite films of the past ten years have been from former music video directors. But Webb is hardly Spike Jonez… hell, he’s hardly Zack Snyder. Snyder has a vision unique to him – albeit rather violent and often pretty shallow – but it’s a vision. 500 Days of Summer has, well nothing.
Take, for example, a few scenes in the film (note: potential spoilers ahead. No, they’re not cataclysmic, end-revealing spoilers, but mostly tell one scene. But, I feel better about warning you anyway. Read on if interested):
*Tom (the usually excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are upset with one another. Summer mentions that they’re not in a relationship (occurs throughout the film), and Tom protests by mentioning all the things they’ve done together that couples do. He proceeds to talk about only three events, all of which the viewers have seen. At this point, it’s over 100 days into the couple’s knowing and interacting with one another. One would think that they’ve done more than three things over the course of 100+ days into knowing one another, and they don’t necessarily have to be shown. Even so, these scenes have, and it’s damn dumb to beat the viewer over the head with these scenes.
*Summer is telling something of great magnitude to Tom. But, instead of actually hearing what it is, the booming voiceover comes on and merely tells the audience that this is an epochal point in their relationship. So, instead of showing this interaction, the writers/director/whomever couldn’t come up with anything truly moving and had the voice over patch it up. Nice work.
*The Apple trailers site has a clip from the film, and it’s a bit of a throwaway, but it’s a pretty stand-in for the whole film. In it, Tom’s best-friend pleads with Tom to tell him something important because he’s his best friend. We learn this throughout the film, and it’s beat into the viewers’ heads mercilessly. Kind of like the following, so-bad-it’s-good film:
*Also, for someone who is Tom’s best friend, in a movie about “love,” why the hell isn’t the best friend’s girlfriend of umpteenth-years ever in the movie?
(End of potential spoilers)
Simply put, 500 Days of Summer has a lot of problems that bog down the story… if there was one. But it’s basically a dude-loves-girl-and-heartbreak-blah-blah-blah. Another film where a girl is put on a pedestal and doesn’t get much of a character (not that Zooey Deschanel can actually act… seriously, she basically talks in monotone and they work in an excuse for her to sing) and it’s all from the guy’s perspective. I get it, I’m a guy, but I’m surely tired of seeing movies that put women on some high up stage, give her a few tidbits for why they’re so great (she’s pretty! and likes Belle and Sebastian! marry me!) and nothing else. It’s been done to death. I don’t care, and the “film” didn’t give me any reason to care.
The one thing the movie does well is it is marketed well. Oh so well. That could be because it’s not, as they say, an indie movie. Sure it’s under Fox Searchlight, the “independent” branch of the Fox film juggernaut, but it’s got all the money you can toss at it.
It’s soundtrack, the key element for the focus of the film and people paying attention to the movie, surely has your indie greats, but a majority of the songs all come from a major label catalogue:
1 Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen: “A Story of Boy Meets Girl” (self-released)
2 Regina Spektor: “Us” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
3 The Smiths: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (recent greatest hits compilation released by Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
4 Black Lips: “Bad Kids” (Vice Records)
5 The Smiths: “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (recent greatest hits compilation released by Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
6 Doves: “There Goes the Fear” (Capitol Records)
7 Hall & Oates: “You Make My Dreams” (RCA)
8 The Temper Trap: “Sweet Disposition” (No US label, but on Liberation Music in the UK, which is distributed by Universal Music)
9 Carla Bruni: “Quelqu’un M’a Dit” (Not available in the US)
10 Feist: “Mushaboom” (Polydor, which is owned by Universal Music Group)
11 Regina Spektor: “Hero” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
12 Simon & Garfunkel: “Bookends” (Columbia Records)
13 Wolfmother: “Vagabond” (Modular, owned by Universal Music Group)
14 Mumm-Ra: “She’s Got You High” (Sony-BMG)
15 Meaghan Smith: “Here Comes Your Man” (Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group)
16 She & Him: “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (Merge Records)
I’m actually a little surprised they don’t have the original version of The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” on the soundtrack, as Elektra is owned by Warner Music Group. But, there might be complications with all the label ownership/high fees for the song, all of which is beyond my own caring of major label-ownership-of-bands-catalogs. But, a high number of acts that are on/affiliated with major labels, which shows the connectivity/buying power of Fox Searchlight.
And Fox Searchlight has done quite a solid job of advertising the film, perhaps on levels greater than the folks behind Transformers 2. I mean, they’re giving out 500 cupcakes at a time through Twitter tweets. But, perhaps their advertising has been so overwhelming to me because I’m in their target demographic: young male with a taste for indie flicks. So Fox Searchlight has plastered the background of Stereogum, advertised on Pitchfork, The New York Times site, The AV Club website, and their connections and the “indie roster” of the film (both soundtrack and casting, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become one of the strongest actors in independent film as of late – just look at Brick) has probably gotten them the PR attention and landed the Cinemash deal.
And there just might be the one reason why I’m so implausibly upset at what is just some dumb movie:
They had hooked me.
They got me from that first teaser trailer:
I probably watched that thing a dozen times after I heard it did well at Sundance (hint hint, another popular “indie” point of reference.) The chord progression from The Temper Trap got me, hook, line, and sinker. And the images so pretty, it was all so well edited. Unfortunately, the film has half that equation: solid (but a little limp from time to time) soundtrack, and pretty, but bogged down by supposed-plot and an image that tries to be something profound but merely slinks away in shame. And that’s what I did after the film. I was shocked at how well an advertisement, a one-and-a-half minute advertisement, convinced me that, beyond all reasonable doubt, the movie was worth seeing. And was something better than the usual torpid sludge that’s trudged into theaters this time of year. And I was wrong.
This is why I hope anyone who can’t wait for this film based off of some selections from the soundtrack, their “love” of “Brand Name A” involved in the movie (another thing that ticks me off – the lavish IKEA advertisement for the film – does it have to be an IKEA? Why not, say some unbranded place?) or an actor/actress (which, in and off itself, is the Hollywood formula: place famous actor in some situation, make a lot of money), or the idea that the movie is a “great” “indie” “film.” It isn’t. And sure, in the end, it is my opinion, but I find it so hard that something so formulaic and unoriginal doesn’t appear to be when inspected by others as well. But, “this is not a movie warning, it’s a warning about a damn bad movie that, if it were to succeed, would only further the studios’ ideas to create even more formulaic indie films.”
you’re cute when you’re angry =P
by which i mean, this is awesome. and ranty. and angsty. sweet deal
how dare you, hollywood?! appropriating and packaging all the things that we thought made us special and unique snowflakes
WE SEE THROUGH YOU
haven’t seen this yet, don’t plan to. is it wrong that i liked nick & norah’s? it was genuinely cute. maybe i was suffering from ny nostalgia at the time.
that graphic up top’s real creepy.
the fourth in boston was way cute. i saw babies. if i don’t see you before you leave for the windy city forever and ever i’ll be real sad.
Awww, thanks. Yeah, I obviously felt a lot of resentment about Hollywood’s appropriation of “indie” culture in this film… I hope other people are able to see through it as well, though it’s hard to tell when the movie hasn’t officially been released yet and the only ones saying anything are over-zealous folks on twitter who also like Hollywood muck anyway…
Haven’t seen Nick & Norah’s, but that was kind of up front as far as being a “we’re just trying to make a cute romantic film” versus one that has the sheen of something trying to be bigger than it actually is…
Oh Boston on the 4th… I slightly heard Foo Fighters in the background on the grass between the Washington Monument and the White House. And come up to Boston again!
Thanks for the heads-up. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, due to my love of the “quirky, indie films” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But I see that once again, I have been fooled (at least I didn’t waste the $8 I did to see “Nick & Nora,” sorry, Leor, that movie was awful). Ugh, I am part of a mainstream market niche.
Anyhow, this article was very funny. I learned a new-term, “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and your comment about Zooey Deschanel was spot-on (“basically talks in monotone and they work in an excuse for her to sing”).
Yeah, I feel your pain… but, at least you didn’t sit through the movie! I was really looking forward to it as well, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is usually a knock out and here he was sort of tossed into a third-rate comedy/over-the-top melodrama acting job… he was ok, but that’s far from his best stuff. And I haven’t seen Nick and Nora! I just said it was pretty up front about being a Hollywood-4-teen-rom-com. And you’re not part of a market niche until you buy everything they tell you to…
Thanks for the props – I appreciate it! And yeah, not the biggest fan of Zooey Deschanel, though she was good in “Almost Famous” (you know, for the 5 minutes or so she’s onscreen). But I seriously haven’t seen one actress who continually speaks in the same vocal tone for every range of emotion and somehow always lands a role with a singing part (Elf, Liar Li… I mean, Yes Man)… oh, and then there’s The Happening (unspeakably bad on so many levels…)
Uh interesting review. I’m still gonna see it anyway. This review doesn’t deter me. I think you expected something way too much, no need to nitpick every little about it, wowza!
And plus, this film has gotten really good reviews-not just from the critics, but us regular folks who don’t critique films for a living.
Well, thanks for reading. I didn’t necessarily expect to deter anyone, or expect much of anything in the first place. This isn’t some “ban (enter movie title/artist/individual name here) for (some ridiculous reason here),” it’s me merely writing my thoughts. And if no one reads it, fine, if people do, ok, if you decide not to heed my advice, that’s fine. If anything, I’m just trying to get people to think about their movie-going experience and everything behind the film-making process and viewing process versus being a passive viewer. My “nitpicking” is merely a form of me critiquing a long laundry list of the movie’s faults, all of which underline my basic frustration with the film: that it has a music-video sheen, where the images of the emotional ups-and-downs of the relationships look real, but it lacks any real emotional depth of any nature and is unable to convey actual human interaction beyond a few quirks. All of my “nitpicking” I used to point out what I felt were faults, and that’s what I consider to be a solid way to back up my point when, early on, people seem to have nothing but adoration for a film I was not only disappointed with, but felt ashamed for having wanted to see it in the first place.
And as far as “regular folks” who don’t critique things for a living, well, there’s a market for everyone in Hollywood. Literally. How else do you explain Norbit hitting #1 at the box office and the “(genre of film) Movies” that are consistently cranked out, despite the assumption that these “films” are terrible? Yes, taste is all up to the individual, but there is a reason that critics exist and make a living critiquing the art of others. These are individuals who are more knowledgeable about film/books/music/etc then most people in the general public, and have the ability to convey their knowledge in ways to asses other films. They carry years, decades, and sometimes centuries of artistic history ingrained in their heads, and having seen/heard/witnessed so many forms of artistic expression and focused on just that can derive the good from the bad. The public instills their trust in the words of many of these critics for various reasons, either for consumer benefit (so they have the knowledge not to toss their money on I Love You, Beth Cooper because it was given a thrashing by critics) or because they share many a taste in films. In any case, these critics know what they’re talking about because they’ve studied it for years, and can tell when something properly evokes the human condition or is a farce draped in storyline. Much like Alexis de Tocqueville found hope in American democracy in lawyers because their reliance on centuries of written law would guide the country through what he described as “the tyranny of the majority,” critics offer a learned opinion on artistic expression that differs from the masses of folk willing to shell out $8-12 on the latest Michael Bay explosion marathon. It’s advice on something that does appeal to individual taste, but you would want someone who is studied in that art form to hand out advice, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t want some random stranger to give you tips on habeas corpus if they didn’t know what it meant, right? So why would you immediately accept the opinion of random individuals who merely post “I love this movie” online and don’t give it any explanation.
Now, I’m in no way comparing myself to the wealth of worthy film critics out there, but I am stating my opinion with point-to-point critiques as to why I feel that way, which isn’t exactly a characteristic of a normal movie viewer. If you choose to not take my advice, so be it – it ultimately is your decision. And sure, at the moment, 500 Days of Summer has a fairly high rating on Rotten Tomatoes… but it also has less than 1/10 of its proper reviews in, so it’s too early to call what the critics’ consensus will be. As far as individual people, the masses are so finicky, it’s really impossible to tell what people will think, especially now (remember when Sacha Baron Cohen was the toast of the town three years ago, and now it’s a mixed assessment?)….
But again, this is just my advice, my opinion, my attempt to get viewers to open their eyes a little and see what they’ve purchased. Because, most often, what you buy is on par with your thinking and how you vote, and you wouldn’t want to go into an election uneducated about the candidates, would you?
Darnit, I got tricked hardcore by the ads for this movie too. I might still see it if the opportunity arises, just to figure out what I think about it. But thanks for the warning, really well thought out.
I can’t tell if it’s a bit of irony or hypocrisy that I smell in this review due to that the fact that you complain about the film’s marketing when you do a bit of that yourself by sneakily working this review into Wikipedia by way of mentioning that some reviewers take issue with “the film’s corporate appropriation of indie culture” and then linking to this review through a footnote. I guess the distinction lies in whether or not I should expect you to do that, but I don’t know you, so I can’t say. I deem this review not noteworthy. In the future, I ask that you not resort to such deceptive means (not unlike your qualms with the advertising for this film) in order to get hits on your blog.
And I can’t even tell if you’re actually talking about indie films when you say “indie” or if you’re just talking about trendy films. I mean, really. Your examples of “indie” films are all Sophia Coppola, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Zach Braff, AmÃ©lie, and Juno? One mention of Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater (who hasn’t really made a film anyone cares about in quite some time)? “”Character-development” in supposedly “mundane” scenes” is an “indie” staple? Do you even watch films other than what’s popular among the people documented by the website “Look At This Fucking Hipster”? So as far as corporate appropriation of indie culture: they didn’t have to appropriate anything, because they sold it to you long before this film was even a twinkle in someone’s eye.
Let’s see here:
Advertisement: (noun) a paid announcement, as of goods for sale, in newspapers or magazines, on radio or television, etc.
I’d hardly call a wikipedia edit an act of advertisement or marketing seeing as it’s free. I’d say it’d be ironic or hypocritical for me to deny that I posted that: yes I did. But it was never my original intention to put it on wikipeida – I saw that the reception section was missing, and, at the moment (because the film hasn’t been widely released and most reviews haven’t been logged) I could only find a handful of reviews on the movie, and I couldn’t find any outright negative reviews. And, unlike, say, a billboard or ad space that the general public has no control over, wikipedia is completely controlled by volunteers and a select number of editors. So, if this was indeed an act of advertisement, the editors would have kindly done away with it immediately: I made a point to provide three distinct comments on the film, and you in your high chair made the distinction that my review was somehow noteworthy. And how do I know it was you? Your IP address for this comment matches the IP address for the edited comment; odd that someone who complains about apparent hypocrisy doesn’t use their real name in this post (although it’s probable that Hank is your nickname) and doesn’t use a wikipedia profile when editing articles on the site and complaining of a certain degree of who-did-this-or-that-edit-and-what’s-in-it-for-them. If anyone wants to access my wikipedia profile, here it is.
You’ll notice, Hank, this is hardly something I do normally. In fact, this is the only wiki edit I have so far (though I probably will do more edits on the site, but without linking it to this blog), though I did have a previous profile for an undergrad class where we had to edit wikipedia pages about global hip-hop (I hadn’t used it in a solid year and forgot the login, so instead of trying to figure out my password all over again, I just figured to start all over). I didn’t do this as a means to “get hits” – hardly. If you couldn’t tell from the “un-noteworthy” review, I wasn’t a fan of this work and was surprised by the unabashed support of the film and wanted to provide people with the access to a different perspective. You felt that a balancing of opinions was totally unnecessary, and whatever, that’s your deal: I did not bat an eye now that it’s off the wiki page, and nor will I re-enter it. So goes the whims of wikipedia, where anyone can post anything, and one person’s ideal for validity can control the information that people see at any given moment (and there’s a reason teachers and professors in schools tell their students not to use the site). But I’d hardly call it deceptive means: my info’s up there, it’s not something I do ordinarily to get “hits” on my blog, and when you pressed me about this, instead of deleting your snarky loathsome comments, putting the info back on wikipedia, and pretending like nothing happened, I’m answering your question. Denying it would fulfill your hateful comments (seriously, did I wrong you in a former life or something? Or did you direct this movie?) and I don’t think I’d be happy with myself if I tried to cover up my wiki edit from a positive inquisitive commenter.
And as far as me talking about “indie films,” sure enough, valid question. For anyone who’s into “indie” anything, it’s a bit of an ambiguous term in-and-of-itself that’s changes from one hand to the next. If you’re going for the idea of independent cinema, meaning without the large funds of the handful of major studios, that’s a massive number of genres of film that include everything from French New Wave to Warhol to BuÃ±uel to mumblecore to Colin – the $70 zombie film that was a hit at Cannes. So yes, I guess I would be referring to the “trend” of “indie” films that can be traced back to Jarmusch and Linklater. It’s a “trend” that’s taken an ambiguous term for budgets without the help of a big studio and transformed it into something of an aesthetic style that 500 Days of Summer, I felt, has appropriated without any of the heart behind the films of Coppola, Gondry, etc. To say that Gondry works on the same budget as most mumblecore folks is ridiculous, but the “trend” of indie films hardly get the same massive budget as, say, any of the Pirates films.
As far as the “character-development in mundane scenes” – well, I apologize if I didn’t add more description to that, err, description. Obviously, the mundane in most films provide moments of character development, but one can notice more moments of blathered ramblings in a Linklater film such as Slacker than in, say, The Departed (which is quite good).
And for the rest of your comments, well, frankly I don’t feel the need to explain to you how many of the AFI 100 films I’ve seen, how many PIXAR and Disney movies I’ve fallen for, and how many times I could watch a good old action-packed blockbuster or shitty movie-of-the-week. You’ve already made up your mind about me without hardly even knowing anything about me aside from the fact that I wrote this one piece: I doubt you took a look at the rest of this blog or even know about what I usually write about on this blog, which is something most hipsters would turn their noses down upon. But frankly, from the looks of this comment, you’re no better than any self-imposed hipster who judges others without knowing them or possibly contemplating the judged individuals’ thoughts, perspective, and emotion (though, for some reason, I’d be willing to listen to more of your ramblings if you were to prove that you didn’t fit into some sort of negative-aggrandizing mold). I wrote this to merely express my feelings about this movie: I put it on wikipedia to allow people to think about what they might find endearing about the film from only having witnessed a minute-and-a-half of a trailer. You found it in your best interest to go out of your way to attack what you perceive as my taste and background, and further the idea for me that the internet merely provides refuge for the kind of negative-and-loathsome characters that Trent Reznor has angrily railed against online.
I could say more, but I think I’ll stop before dragging this whole thing out.
If you’re curious, absolutely go see it – after all, this is my opinion and what I took from the film. I’m not demanding that people not see the film! For me, it’s always a bad feeling thinking about what you could have done with the time you spent in the movie: as this took place during a film festival, it’s especially harsh as I could have seen five other films during the time I sat in on “500 Days,” and most of the other movies will never get the wide release that “500 Days” is getting.
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