Monday, August 23, 2010

I know how I feel. How do YOU feel?

The Standard Spoiler Warning
If I mention a particular film, I just might go into explicit details of the plot. Read at your own risk.

I have often lamented the fact that Annie Hall’s vaunted influence seems to be a thing that exists in name only. If I had a dime for each voice that proclaimed the film once known as "Anhedonia" to be the first real modern romantic comedy . . . you get the point. The thing is, in addition to its deserved place in cinema’s hall of fame, Annie Hall has a special place in modern romantic comedy because the hero and heroine don’t end up together, and you know as much from the first 2 minutes of dialogue. Name another rom-com that tries THAT. I’ll wait.

(Adam waits as you frantically sift through endless memories of reasonably attractive pink-skinned actors running through airports/disrupting weddings to the “wrong” man/ultimately falling in a messy heap before the objects of their affection to declare undying love.)

Can’t do it? OK, I will. (500) Days of Summer.

At first glance, this is a funny little indie movie with some strange ideas of what tonal consistency is. I’d be lying if I said that every little nuance and flourish worked equally well to move the narrative forward, but, ultimately, this thing achieves a remarkable sense of emotional resonance.

I was surprised at how well this film captures the complexity of human relationships. It’s all too easy to do what just about every rom-com does and tell a story about two drastically different people who learn they can’t live without each other. (500) Days of Summer takes the opposite approach and runs with it, which I think is much more difficult. It’s about two very similar people who find that, try as they might, they just won’t be able to make things work.

Tom and Summer’s relationship defies easy classification, which is unusual for a modern film dealing with matters of the heart. (I very much wanted to just call the thing a rom-com, but I don’t think that using that label would be completely honest.) Usually, all we get are films with characters who are very clearly right for each other or not right for each other with very little grey area. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship that wasn’t technically a “relationship.” Would drive me nuts.

When the story begins, it’s very easy to demonize Summer by thinking that she’s treated Tom poorly without any reason. She gets very close to him very quickly, both physically and emotionally, and then, after a while, jumps right out of the frying pan and walks off. Not only that, but she seems to fully expect that he’ll be ok with all this and ready to be “just friends” just as quickly. It seems like she almost expects him to have an on/off switch for his feelings.

Summer reminds me of people I’ve known and interacted with, with varying levels of intimacy. She has an inclination toward being somewhat flighty and sometimes emotionally impenetrable from a readability standpoint. She’s got a strong penchant for doing things for their own sake and rejecting the need for them to fit within a larger framework of values and norms. That said, I felt like I understood where Summer was coming from when the credits rolled. She’d been honest up front with Tom that she wasn’t interested in a real relationship and didn’t want anything serious, although I still can’t help but feel that, to a degree, she used him and his feelings for her own purposes.

Near the end of the film, there’s a scene where they “bump” into each other in a park, and have a chance to really talk. Without this moment, I don’t think that the film would have worked nearly so well as it does. I really admire the way that the two of them completely level with each other. He holds her accountable for her actions toward him, and she is completely honest about the way that she didn’t love him like she wanted to/should have/felt like she ought to. The way that she takes his hand, squeezes it, and he doesn’t move it at all is great. He’s not allowing himself to be drawn back in any more than he has to be. Of course, her mere presence is enough to pull him toward nostalgia and thoughts of what might have been, but he’s trying really hard.

The thing that rang true for me was how she said that she had fallen for the man she married so completely in a way that she had never really felt for Tom. She said it in a way that made me think that she had spent a lot of time thinking about that. Maybe she even tried really hard to make herself feel that way because she thought that she “should.” I can identify with this. Who hasn’t spent time asking oneself over and over and over again if you’re feeling the way you ought to about someone? “Do I care enough? Do I care too much? Am I in love? Should I be?” Like Tom says in the film, movies, pop songs, and greeting cards make it really clear how “normal” people feel about things of the heart, when the actual truth is that things are incredibly different in the so-called real world.

This scene reminds me of what my college speech professor used to call “peak communication.” It involves two people communicating exactly what they’re feeling, without holding anything back. He said that it wasn’t possible to really do this, but I wonder. Without this moment of genuine human communication, (500) Days of Summer would feel like an incomplete indie sketch with a lot of homage-style winks to the camera thrown in for good measure. With it, it’s wonderfully tender and remarkably poignant. It’s not common for a modern film, much less a modern American film, to portray relationships so honestly. This film touched me, and I’m grateful for that. Those don’t come around every day.

Was Summer the “one” for Tom? I think so, at least in the way that a certain number of people could probably qualify as being the soulmate of one person. All that stuff is primarily related to geography anyway. Was he only remembering the “good” stuff about her, as his little sister seemed to think? I don’t think so. Well, to a point, yes, he probably was, but I think that he really did love her completely despite her personal inconsistencies. But I understand where she’s coming from. I really do. The look that Tom gives her in the park when her head is down before she gets up to leave is just wonderful. It’s what a broken heart looks like, but that's not all. It's so much more than that.

I think you understand.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Strudel, party of 1, your table is ready."

In the 2 years that the blog's been active, we've been very lucky to have the steady support of a core team of writers. But times change, people embark on new endeavors, and we've recently found ourselves with only one active team member/blogger. Me.

From the beginning, I saw this blog as a collaborative place where a group of people with different worldviews, tastes, and areas of expertise could come together to engage an audience with articles that were insightful, enjoyable, and, above all, could start a discussion. In the world we live in, it's not enough to just have a site where a person or group of people sit on a mountaintop and deliver maxims to the masses without allowing for the 2-lane highway of effective communication.

As such, when Megan & Christopher left to begin writing at Suspension of Disbelief, I knew that I didn't want to be the only person writing here at the blog. This is for 2 primary reasons. First, I didn't (and still don't) see myself as being prolific enough to be able to write a steady stream of articles that could not only attract new visitors, but also encourage people who stumbled across us to stick around. Second, my tastes, while eclectic, contain certain gaps that will simply have to be dealt with. I'm certainly not apologizing for what I like or don't like, but I want this blog to represent the diversity of preference that exists among cinephiles.

So, it's with great pleasure that I introduce a new member of our team. Kelly's been a friend of mine since the day we met as 2 parts of a guerilla marketing campaign gone (slightly) awry. She's not only a talented writer, but she also has a genuine passion for the movies that's just infectious.

I'm sure that she'll have more to say in the way of introductions, so I'll leave the rest of that to her. Just know that I'm glad to have her as a member of the team, and hope that you'll enjoy her take on the movies as much as I do.