Summer films 2009: a frivolous post.
I’ve missed the biggest summer movies for one reason or another. I missed Funny People because I was busy during the week or so when it was tanking. I missed District 9 because I’d like to find some folks to go with and I’ve been on the move. I missed Transformers 2 because it was directed by Michael Bay. But I did see three movies in the last month or so.
(500) Days of Summer
Zooey Deschanel was in All the Real Girls, which earns her a special place in my heart and makes me hopeful every time she decides to be in interesting movies. And so I was very excited about (500) Days of Summer, in which she plays a role much like the one that I loved her in: the girl who lets the protagonist come just far enough so he knows she’s really there, but keeps some part of herself out of his reach. Maybe she’s selfish, or maybe we just can’t see the movie from her side of things. Should we be mad at her? She’s good at this sort of character. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a great choice for Tom, the movie’s creative-class protagonist.
Really, it’s these two actors that anchor the movie in such a way that some of the more intrusive voice-overs and other bad ideas slide on by. And plenty of bad ideas and clichés landed in the screenplay. The preteen sister who gives Tom badly-needed relationship advice? Probably a bad idea, but JoGo-Lev is properly hapless and confused, so it goes down easy. The wacky gift-card company where Tom works? A transparent set-up for a blunt lesson about emotion and sincerity, but somehow it doesn’t matter too much. An admittedly funny yet tonally out-of-place montage of JoGo-Lev in recreations mopey art-film scenes, including the beach-chess one from The Seventh Seal? I don’t know what they should have done about that. What you end up with is a good movie with a strong center and a number of peripheral flaws. Fix these problems and I’m still not convinced you’ve got a work of lasting depth, but it’s definitely something to enjoy.
I wish I were sharp enough to write something about what this movie says about some segment of my generation, but it’s not coming to me.
The Hurt Locker
A tense, episodic story of an Iraq bomb squad that seems to deserve most of the praise it’s getting. I’d be very interested to read in-depth considerations from veterans. If my brief message-board browsing is worthwhile, the movie strays from realism — but I’m not totally sure I knew what was going on outside the narrower focus of each mission. The actors are good. Whatever the film’s problems, the characters’ head-on confrontation with death and their grappling with the psychological fallout of said confrontation is inherently interesting. And the action sequences are, as I said, quite tense.
This one’s hook is that it’s a romantic comedy where one of the characters has Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning autism-spectrum disorder. My only personal encounter with Asperger’s has been with a couple of friends who are borderline cases, which is to say that I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s socially impaired by Asperger’s to the degree that Adam is at the outset of this movie. So here I’m curious to know whether Adam rings true to people who are familiar with Asperger’s.
I had to suspend my disbelief that the relationship could ever get off the ground. The screenplay wants us to believe that Beth is attracted to Adam because his guilelessness is such a change from the sleazy investment bankers she’s dated. That doesn’t seem like reason enough for her to give Adam a shot. I mean, Beth’s the kind of girl that would have a million quality prospects whenever she wanted. She doesn’t need to meet guys in her apartment building’s laundry room.
But once you get past this, it’s not a bad movie, though it’s not world-changing either. The soundtrack’s a little cloying, and it makes Manhattan look impossibly un-crowded, but it’s beautiful to watch and rather funny, with what I took to be a satisfying ending. Does it border on mental-condition-as-wondrous-window-to-what-the-rest-of-us-don’t-see? It seems like it when Adam tells a fascinated Beth about cosmology and Central Park’s elusive raccoons — but then again, that might only be what Beth wants to see in Adam. Beth clearly and realistically wrestles with what it is she sees in Adam in the later reels.