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(500) Days of Summer

Directed by Marc Webb
The Summer of the title is a girl and not the season and the movie tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and 500 days during his relationship with her (Zooey Deschanel).  This could be a fairly mundane story, with few significant surprises, except for the way in which it’s told.  And that telling will appeal to some audience members and drive others completely crazy as to some extent the movie becomes more about the form than simply about the tale, a phenomenon that often leaves me on the crazy side of the fence but which this time around I found really appealing.

As the story unfolds, the audience is presented with an onscreen counter that tells us which day of the relationship we are on and the story itself is completely non-linear.  Such stories are sometimes frustrating, depending on the effectiveness of the direction, as they jump from one point in time to another without immediate clarity in the chronology.  In this movie, we always know exactly what moment we’re experiencing and it rapidly becomes both a roadmap and a running inside joke.

This is just one visual trick in a movie that employs several, perhaps one or two too many, which on balance I enjoyed.  Mainstream feature films are often very formulaic in nature, whereas short films and music videos are often more visually innovative.  “(500) Days…” is a debut feature from a director, Marc Webb, who has previously made shorter projects and seems to have carried that innovation forward, in my opinion successfully.

Certainly to the advantage of the overall outcome, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are both appealing and believable in most moments of their respective roles as the hopeful and smitten young man and the girl who is skeptical about the existence of true love.  This is a story that could fail purely on an absence of chemistry and audience sympathy with other actors in these roles, but they are well matched and effective during both the highs and the lows of their relationship.  Additionally, the movie has one of the best pairs of opening and closing scenes I’ve seen in a while, contributing to my overall positive response.

Paper Heart

Directed by Nick Jasenovec
Special Screening Friday, July 31st, 7pm at the Crest Theater
(Opens in Sacramento Theaters on August 21st)

In an odd coincidence, “Paper Heart” is another film about a young woman who questions the existence of love.  But the similarity generally ends there in terms of both style and content:  “Paper Heart” has the appearance of a documentary but is, in practice, one of the best executed “mockumentaries” (a narrative comedy or parody in the style of a documentary) that I’ve seen.  (I would also recommend a movie that you might be able to find on DVD called “Sons of Provo” – an indie from the festival circuit a few years ago.)
Charlyne Yi plays herself in the story of a young female comedienne who sets out to interview assorted members of the public to confirm her belief that love doesn’t exist.  Those interviewed include friends such as Seth Rogan and Demetri Martin and so it’s no surprise that, as the story unfolds, Charlyne finds herself at a party with fellow actor Michael Cera, playing a character much like our cumulative impression of the Michael Cera characters we’ve encountered in multiple other movies, with the apparent reality of the role helping to avoid any sense of typecasting.  

The outcome of this pairing is a cute but uneasy friendship that seems so natural that it’s somewhat difficult at times to determine when it’s scripted and/or whether or not what we’re watching is genuinely occurring or merely fictional – but either way the experience is wonderful and should appeal to just about anybody who has ever felt awkward or uncertain in a beginning relationship (and isn’t that all of us) – and some of the timing is better than in the most rehearsed screenplays.

“Paper Heart” opens locally later in the Summer (August 21st in Sacramento), but is being presented as a special screening at the 10th Annual Sacramento Film & Music Festival on Friday July 31st at 7pm at the Crest Theatre.  It is also a recipient of the Festival’s 2009 Directors Choice Award (Disclaimer: I’m one of the Festival Directors but I’d recommend the film whether or not you see it early).


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