Friday, February 12, 2010

The Summer Effect

This last Thursday, one of my best friends came over to my apartment and presented me with a choice: Watch 500 Days of Summer for the first time or watch Zombie Land again. For most guys, this is a no-brainer. Through the twisted magic of monogamy, (with my fiancee, not my friend) we ended up settling on the former. Here's the shocking part: It was the right choice. I don't mean to say it is a better movie than Zombie Land on the whole, such a thing borderlines blasphemy and is difficult to fathom, but it is an excellent enough film that you should see it at least once, regardless of who you are, even when presented with other fine options of entertainment. In fact, I would go so far as to call it the best romance since Love Actually.

It's a damn good movie, but the aesthetic is so Indie it stings at times.

Each scene or couple of scenes are excerpted days from a romance, all shuffled and played out of order in a way that is far more powerful than a traditional telling. Just like love actually interviews numerous different narratives of love together, Summer presents readers with a number of shifting currents at work in the relationship. This cutting allows the movie to tell a much deeper and far more honest love story than Hollywood's Meg Ryan meets Tom Hanks model. It even sets it apart from other Indie boy meets girl stories. Though, before proceeding, it may be prudent to provide a brief explanation of what I mean by indie.

In the beginning, the phrase stood for Independent Music, meaning music that was not published by a major record label. Hipsters, the metric unit of the indie subculture, will claim that said music is independently published because it's too cool or sophisticated for us mere sheeple to appreciate. Translation: not enough people would want to buy the music to motivate a major record label to sell it. That's a broad statement and a crude summary of the politics in play behind the music, but it's a useful enough explanation to help you understand where the greater Indie aesthetic is coming from. Like many counter-cultures it is a rejection of the mainstream, and it's particular interest lies where commercialism and artistic taste intersect, particularly where music is concerned. Like many other counter cultures however, the demographic has been identified (2o something college grads) and the market has been branded, and there is a specific sort of fiction and a specific style of dress associated with the aesthetic. One can consider the indie movement as the baroque movement of the post .com period, and Hipsters celebrate their awkwardness through ironic self-deprecation.

500 Days of Summer is that sort of movie; a celebration of being strange, and of not putting up with consumerism's exploitative bullshit. As such, it can come across as preachy in a roundabout way, but like most things indie, the hipster self-deprecation mutes it's own activism. Psychologists and pop cultural scholars scratching their heads over where a social movement comes into it's own should take a look at Summer just to see how everything conforms to this movement. Everything in the movie from the wardrobe, to the soundtrack, to the little animations that separate each day in the relationship, to the lead Zoey Deschanel's alluring yet awkward good looks is all decidedly 'Indien.'

Pic swiped from Starpulse via Google. Here she just looks pretty. The awkward comes through in the trailer however.

So how does all this awkwardness tie in to the plot? Aside from shuffling the chronology, the story flips the dynamics of boy meeting girl. Tom is the "new" sort of boy, the kind of leading man that would give Hemingway another excuse to drink. He falls for girls hard, talks about his feelings with his friends, and cares about his appearance enough to feel insecure about it. Meanwhile, the titular Summer is an old-fashioned guy. She is non-committal fiercely sexual, and very guarded about her emotions. This gender-reversal is nothing new, but the delivery here is nuanced and authentic to the times we live in.

If you're a person like me, who has come to despise Hollywood's formulaic approach to romance, or a person like either of the movies protagonists, you will love it. Fans of more conventional fair will probably enjoy it too because there is real, legitimate romance happening here. It may even be an sobering experience of sorts. So if you're searching for a movie to watch this valentide, give 500 Days of Summer a shot.

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