Project Valentine, Day 5: (500) Days of Summer


Tonight we leave our block of classic romance movies, and enter our second block, devoted to that trickiest of romantic heroines: Manic Pixie Dream Girls.  Manic-what-now?  I'm glad you asked (although I did actually briefly talk about this once during Project Horror).

I can't take credit for the term MPDG.  Like many great things, it came from The Onion.  You can expand on this definition as needed (which they do in articles here, here, here, and here), but at her core the MPDG is "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."  You know, the girl who wants you to pull the car over so she can dance in the rain to the song that changed her life.  The girl who has lots of little quirks like wearing scarves in July or stealing apples from the corner grocer or giving names to stray dogs, and if you ask her about them she says some kind of mush about embracing life to the fullest.  That is the manic pixie dream girl.

I decided to lead off this block with (500) Days of Summer, a movie which I really knew nothing about except that two people whose opinions I respect (wassup, Matt and Scott?) strongly recommended it.  When I saw it listed in the Wikipedia article on MPDGs, I thought it would make a good starter.  Truthfully, though, although the female lead had some characteristics of an MPDG, this movie was so much more.

I LOVED this movie.  Really, it's very, very good.  I wouldn't have guessed this back when he was on 3rd Rock from the Sun, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown into one of the most interesting young actors in Hollywood.  Between this and Inception, dude is on a roll.  I've seen Chloe Grace Moretz in three movies in the last year (this, Kick Ass, and Let Me In), and she has knocked my socks off each time.  Mark my words, she's almost 14 right now, but by the time she's 30 she'll have an Oscar.  She is a huge talent.  And I know that Zooey Deschanel isn't everybody's taste, but as far as I'm concerned, she's the perfect actress to play a woman who guys just fall in love with.

If I try to tell you the plot of (500) Days of Summer, it's not going to sound all that original.  A guy and a girl meet, and the rest of the movie is about the course of their relationship, with its ups, downs, and ultimate destination.  Where it really nails it is in the execution.  The story is presented in non-linear order (think Pulp Fiction) so that the details of their relationship only become clearer to you a little bit at a time.

Courtney and I have been married now for nearly nine years, and dated for about two years before that.  It's been a long time since I've been in the situation that the people in this movie are in, but another way that this movie really succeeded is that it instantly made me remember those feelings - the exhilaration and fascination that defines the beginning of something new, the worries as you wonder where things are headed, the many levels of hurt when things don't work out.  (500) Days of Summer brought all of those things back to the surface.  I could identify with these characters.  They don't meet in some ridiculous "only in the movies" way, like they both reach for the last muffin at the bakery and fight over it but then fall in love, and they don't stay together for some stupid reason like they both have a bet with their friends/bosses/editors that they can make a relationship work, only to realize that *!WOW!* they really do love each other.

OK, up to this point I've stayed pretty spoiler-free, but skip this paragraph if you really want to watch this movie with a clean slate.  My one disappointment with this movie is also one of the things that made me really respect it - Summer and Tom's final scene, when they talk one last time after she's married.  I respected this because it was true-to-life.  This is a thing that happens, relationships end, one party inevitably moves on faster than the other, and the other person is left with additional hurt because of that.  I just wished that she seemed to have some sort of sorrow over the pain she'd caused him, or had some better answer for his questions.  But again, I know that in real life it doesn't play out that way.  You know that final scene in Swingers, when Jon Favreau's ex finally calls him, and he gets to have his moment of triumph by hanging up on her?  I wanted Tom to have that moment, too.  That's a small nitpick on an otherwise great movie, though.

Two more links to send you out on.  First, this one, which has my favorite scene in the entire movie, and one of the best laughs I've had at a movie in a long time, at about 0:21-0:25.  I think that most guys can identify with that part.  Second, this one, which is only tangentially related, but which makes me think of Summer.

RATING - I really recommend this movie.  I give it five Ringos out of five.  (Her favorite Beatle is Ringo!  There's your MPDG quirk, right there.)
LESSON - Don't let your past baggage prevent you from being open to new possibilities.


Will Meekin said...

It occurred to me that Summer's breezy sympathy-lite send-off of Tom at the end might undermine her MPDG identity a bit and illustrate that not all sensitive writer-directors' fevered imaginings work out neatly. (Awkward phrasing I'm too lazy to brush up; I think you get me, though.) And again, Zoe Deschanel, curse and love her at once, is the perfect cold-blooded assassin to play that moment.

The whimsy of the morning after sequence is so infectious even hard and fast curmudgeons can't resist a smile.

And finally from your link: "Other evidence of [Heather's] psycho mental status includes a June 3 incident in which she stayed up until 4 a.m. curled up against senior Rob Pollian on his couch, telling him all her sexual fantasies, only to become enraged when he attempted to kiss her." Who hasn't been there?


Anonymous said...

I need to see this one again. I found myself annoyed at his inability to recognize how Summer wasn't returning his affection and she wasn't for him. Not that this doesn't happen many times in life -- a creative, intelligent guy overflowing with love, but without an adequate target. JG-L is like a less spectacularly goofy Duckie (from Pretty in Pink, obvs) in this movie.


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