Showing posts with label quasi-indie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label quasi-indie. Show all posts

Monday, April 21, 2014

Conflicted Romantic Protagonists in (500) Days of Summer and +1 (Plus One)

Spoilers ahead for +1, the newer film. 

(500) Days of Summer (2009, Dir. Marc Webb) and +1 (2013, Dir. Dennis Iliadis) are both a part of a somewhat recent spate of films that involve romantic male protagonists that if you think about it enough, are completely unsympathetic characters who paint their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends as villains simply by the will of their own states of denial and imaginations. The other similarity between these two films is that they deal with time - (500) Days of Summer through memories and filmic time, and +1 by virtue of being a science fiction film that involves doubles/alternate universes and time. +1 is bizarrely the more linear film. Despite the trailer making it appear to be something along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is more about what happens when and if doubles encounter each other at a gigantic college party where each person attending has a double. The "why" part does not factor in to +1, it is more of a tale about fear of being replaced and morality.

David, the protagonist of +1 has been recently dumped by his girlfriend of two years, Jill, after she finds him accidentally kissing her similar-featured fencing opponent after a match. She is also unhappy that David appears to be content with staying in the town they grew up in and stagnant. They both of course end up at the large party, with David intent on winning Jill back. David, his two friends, and another party guest are the first two notice the existence of doubles after the lights mysteriously flicker on and off due to a faulty transformer. Actions are being repeated. David manages to subdue his double. But with each electricity flicker, the repeated actions of the doubles start to get closer in time to the current actions of the original attendees. This eventually results in confrontation because both groups of people are confused and scared. David, in the melee, of course tries to repair his relationship with Jill. Failing to win her back with one conversation, he tries it again on Jill's double, this time saying the "right" things and the couple appears to get back together. But like a wacky romantic comedy with an extreme dark side, David has to keep second Jill away from "original" Jill. This ultimately does not go well for "original" Jill. The final shot of the film is the party's host and various attendees walking around shocked, devastated, and crying, while David and second Jill make out beside the estate's pool house. Granted, one might want to feel uneasy about the protagonist being played by Rhys Wakefield, the creepy blond preppy killer from last year's The Purge, but he does well with playing normal for most of the film.

(500) Days of Summer is the more complex film that has been subject to different interpretations. I have heard the sentence, "You can tell a lot about a person about who they think the villain is in (500) Days of Summer." I think sometimes interpretations are based on depending on who you find to be more attractive, Joseph Gordon Levitt or Zooey Deschanel, since some people have a near-rabid hatred towards Deschanel and her image. This film makes a weak attempt to have her play against this image, but the sheer Etsyness of some of the aesthetics of the film overpowers this attempt. Joseph Gordon Levitt has had to comment about people who think Tom is the ideal boyfriend, stating that Tom actually is not a good boyfriend at all. Whenever I watch this film (which has been two times now), I watch it with my brow furrowed. I do not think it is a very funny film. It is sad and a little scary more than anything. It is also a 90 minute indie music compilation that also doubles as an IKEA advertisement. Who goes on dates at IKEA? She's wearing a dress and he is wearing a shirt and tie (under a hoodie) to IKEA!

What is odd about the film is that while it wants to point out that Tom and his friends are maybe not that great, and that Tom's perception and memories of Summer were filtered through his own point of view and selfishness, (500) Days of Summer has an ambivalence about both Tom and Summer that constantly switches until the last half hour or so of the film. In the last third of the film, while it wants to show that both Tom and Summer changed from their quasi-relationship, the film propels itself to the requisite happy ending for Tom, and an inscrutable ending for Summer. There are multiple interpretations of whether or not she is actually happy being married. The film sets this up to an extent by showing the ending to The Graduate twice in the film, which also features an inscrutable ending. The first time the ending of The Graduate is displayed to show that Tom thought it was a happy ending, especially when he was younger. The second time, the ending is shown to display that Summer finds it to be a sad ending, to the point where she is crying in the theater. This is also what seems to spawn her decision to break up with Tom.

(500) Days of Summer also attempts to align itself with French New Wave films from the 1960s and briefly with Ingmar Bergman. This accounts for not only the shallow comedic parodies that Tom seems to mentally project onto a movie screen while at the theater after the breakup, but with the nonlinear time structure of the film. Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad is also a film about the issues of memory and denial unfurled out in an even more nonlinear, repetitive fashion than Days of Summer. (500) Days of Summer at least flashes what day of obsession Tom is on throughout the course of the film. Typical American romcom structure, even filtered through an "Indiewood" production, still demands a happy ending and some clarity.

Despite the film being a commentary on modern relationships and how filtered they are through greeting cards/greeting card holidays, films of any sort (Star Wars and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are also referenced in the film) and even music, the commentary for the most part falls flat. The film tries to either take an ambivalent or neutral stake in the relationship and eventual break up of Tom and Summer, but it is unclear in its attempt to do so. This is the ultimate failure of the film. The film ends with the sentence of someone (the screenwriters? the director?) calling an ex-girlfriend a "bitch", thereby canceling any sort of neutral stance built up in the film. They are no different from Tom and his friends at their most unbearable in the film, with their preconceived, gossipy notions of Summer being a "stuck up bitch" or a "skank" before they even talk to her. (500) Days of Summer, despite being filtered through the maximum Etsy "cute and quirky" filter, is ultimately a film about awful people both in front of and behind the camera, but who only have an inkling about how insufferable they are. The cluelessness is not played up by anyone or for anyone except for Tom on occasion. I get it, these people have faults, but this film seems to think its more charming about it than it actually is.

In some ways The Break-Up is a more radical film than (500) Days of Summer because it at least puts forth the idea that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's characters are okay being single, apart, and moving on with their lives by the end of the film with little regrets. That film, if I remember correctly, also seemed to give equal share to the couple's individual point of view. (500) Days of Summer denies Summer a point of view, and that is why this movie fails to some degree in any vague attempt to take a neutral stance on Tom and Summer's relationship. Summer, wholly intentionally or no, is just built up as an object - from her initial physical descriptions (we are not given the height, weight, and shoe size of Tom) to her apparent influence (all with the implication it is because of her beauty)  - and remains so for the film. Despite the "edgy" attempt to break stereotypes and to have her be the more reluctant person in love and not wanting a relationship (and stating this quite a few times), it rings cheap and false because we are not given much reason insight to why she thinks this way other than her parents divorced. Even with the expense of making the film 30-45 minutes longer, would it have hurt to feature Summer's point of view more?