The Classics – “(500) Days of Summer”

Welcome back to The Classics and Happy Valentine’s Day! I took a vote on my Facebook over which of my favorite romantic comedies to review and (500) Days of Summer got the highest vote (sorry to those who voted for True Romance).

HEAVY SPOILERS! IF YOU’RE READING AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE, GET OFF THE INTERNET AND WATCH THE MOVIE!

A narrator (Richard McGonagle) tells us the story of two young lovers, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). “This is not a love story. This is a story about love,” the narrator says.

Hopeless romantic Tom becomes smitten over Summer when she overhears him listening to The Smiths and sings along. They become friends, argue philosophical differences in dating, and Summer makes out with him in a copier room, leading to a relationship. However, Summer doesn’t believe in love, which prompts an ongoing conflict between the two.

I first saw (500) Days in college fell in love with the movie instantly. As a naive teen, I understood Tom’s logic. He grew up on romantic pop culture and didn’t quite have a grasp on reality. I didn’t understand the flaws because I was looking for my soulmate.

The thing I love about (500) Days is my interpretation changed over time. I hated Summer when I first saw this film and felt she was toying with Tom’s emotions. As I matured and dated more, I realized Summer was in the right and that Tom is the villain. He’s a guy who needs to date himself to feel whole, leading to self-destructive behavior.

In a scene where his friends set him up on a blind date, Tom bluntly lets his date know he isn’t interested, venting about Summer their entire date. She rightfully ditches Tom in the middle of drunkenly singing The Clash’s “Train in Vain.” Now despite this scene and me saying Tom’s the villain in his relationship, he isn’t a bad person. Neither is Summer! They’re just dumb.

If anything, Tom shows us the flaws, heartbreak, disillusionment, and humor in a relationship. This is done brilliantly in a nonlinear narrative where he’ll list what he loves about Summer then later hate those same things. Tom captures the disillusionment well in a brutally honest monologue when he angrily explodes in a meeting over the realization that everything he believed in is wrong.

Summer on the other hand, doesn’t believe in love because she wants to go with the flow. She believes there’s more to life than dating and that her love can change at any minute. She also grows since she influences Tom to focus on his architecture and changes her views after watching The Graduate. Their brief reunion in the final act is bittersweet as Summer tells Tom he helped her grow (she’s married) and that she wants him to be happy.

By the end of the film, Tom is put together and made peace with the fact that he wasn’t the one for Summer. Though it’s quite obvious by the smug grin on his face after meeting a rival architect Autumn (Minka Kelly) that he’s going to repeat the same mistakes, we still take a good lesson from Tom.

(500) Days is an important romantic comedy because it’s honest; common interests doesn’t make someone “the one,” and expectations and reality are different (another incredible sequence highlights the importance of this)!

I know I’m selling (500) Days as a film about two twisted, selfish people, but this is still a delightful film. I can’t go to Ikea without wanting to reenact the Ikea sequence or listen to “You Make My Dreams Come True” without wanting to break out dancing.

Grade: A+

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“The Night Before”

The Night Before
[Left to Right] Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen karaoke Run DMC.
When you have Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie high off their asses each encountering a vision of Christmas past, present, and future, it’s an R-rated wonderful life!

“The Night Before” stars the three actors as lifelong friends – Ethan, Isaac, and Chris. The trio have a Christmas Eve tradition of debauchery to keep Ethan cheerful (he lost his parents on Christmas Eve), but that’s coming to an end due to Chris’s rising fame and Isaac’s growing family. What better way to go down with a bang than crash a Gatsby-style Christmas party?

I know the plot sounds formulaic,but there’s a breath of fresh air brought into this worn out formula, due to the cast. Gordon-Levitt is a lovable hot mess who only celebrates Christmas his way, Rogen goes from straight man to drugged-out lunatic and goes on the craziest vision quest, and Mackie is torn between his ego and friends.

The three of them each learn something after a series of misadventures involving drunken Santa Clauses, frequent encounters with an eccentric pot dealer (a wonderful Michael Shannon), and a hipster girl who aspires to be a real-life Grinch (Ilana Glazer).

These encounters also add some brief emotional depth as the Grinch self-righteously lectures Chris on his selfish behavior and Shannon’s Mr. Greene helps the friends grow up through his magical weed.

Director Jonathan Levine previously directed Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in the highly underrated “50/50” and he once again brings the best comedic talents from both actors whilst restraining them. His direction also adds a mildly surreal and artistic flare with golden lighting present throughout.

It’s very hard to find a decent holiday movie these days, let alone a decent R-rated one that doesn’t get caught up in a mean-spirited tone, but “The Night Before” manages to balance vulgar humor well with a heartfelt holiday message.

Grade: A-