Last week I watched (500) Days of Summer. I’ve heard a lot about this, and everyone around me seemed to adore the movie. I remember wanting to see it when it came out, but I never got around to it. Now I finally did. And I was a bit underwhelmed.
Maybe it’s because I had seen almost all of the first third of the movie in previews and review shows. Maybe it’s because although I think Zooey Deschanel is cute, I don’t think she’s the most attractive and endearing girl in the universe like some people do. I don’t know.
I enjoyed some of the aspects of the movie. The framing device is of course very cool and interesting. I love when movies aren’t chronological, and this is no exception. It provides a perfect means of comparing different points in a relationship. Other specific points that I heartily enjoyed were the music and dance sequence in the park, and the expectations vs. reality side-by-side part. These were all really interesting and captivated me for their entire duration.
But somewhere near the beginning of this movie, I was removed from a loving standpoint. This is an “Indie” style movie, not only in means of its production but also its genre. It’s true that “Indie” has taken a certain connotation now that stands separate from the related grouping of “independent” movies. They’re movies like Juno, where there’s indie music heavily featured, quirky characters who speak quirkily, and lots of drawn title cards and frames.
I’m not a fan of typical indie dialogue. It’s almost like it’s trying too hard to be unique and witty, and I feel like it ends up being very unnatural. That’s one of the major turn-off points of this movie for me. Even though my current relationship had some very strong parallels to the beginning of the filmic one, I just couldn’t believe that people behaved and talked this way. Maybe I don’t have cool, indie enough friends. Truth is, maybe I don’t want to.
I also wasn’t a fan of Deschanel’s Summer character. She just seemed cold and aloof, and I couldn’t see why Joseph Gordon-Levitt was so infatuated with her. Gordon-Levitt, by the way, does do a great job. He’s a strong leading actor that shows he can carry a movie, and he brings a nice breath of fresh air to a romantic comedy with an emotional yet grounded and reliable character.
In the end, I probably would have enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen so much of it before actually seeing the movie. Because of my pre-exposure to it, I ended up feeling like the dialogue was weak, and characters like Summer and the younger sister were just annoying. It still has a good story, a strong framing device, and enough cinematic tricks to keep you interested the entire duration, however. I just wish I could have loved it as much as everyone else did.
Final rating: 6/10
–James A. Janisse
So I’ve never seen this movie, but of course I knew a lot about it. Somehow, I knew that it had won 10 Academy Awards, more than any other musical, yet I missed the fact that it was a rewrite of Romeo and Juliet. Oh well, I found it out soon enough, and away with this two and a half hour movie I went.
I’ll say right upfront that the length was a slight problem for me. It’s not that I don’t like long movies – some of the longer movies I’ve seen have also been some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. But the problem with West Side Story is that its length feels enhanced by the inclusion of a few slow and honestly boring songs that just sap the pace for me. Maybe it’s a personal distaste for slow songs, but I could have done without the three or four Tony/Maria songs (except for Tonight).
Besides that, there’s not too many bad things to say about the movie. Granted, the movie depicts gangs who do group plies while they patrol their street, but you just have to get over the fact that these are not your average Greasers. It’s like Danny Zuko and the T-Birds met up with the seven brothers with seven brides, and they all gave and took a little. No, I wouldn’t be afraid of Riff or Baby John either, but it’s a musical adapted from Broadway, so you just have to deal with it.
And once you do you can enjoy the hell out of yourself. You’ll definitely recognize at least three songs from the movie that you’d heard before but didn’t know their origins. The music in this film, done by Leonard Bernstein, is fantastic and catchy. Even the music that is just background or scored, without words, is some great jazzy riffs that really carry the film.
The story, adapted from one of the greatest storytellers of all time, is of course solid. The plethora of characters each carve out their own niche and make themselves memorable in their own way. Despite being made in the less-than-progressive year of 1961, I feel as though the film at least tries to offer a balanced view of the racial tension that makes its plot.
The direction and cinematography is what really did it for me, though. I don’t know who did more work, Robert Wise or Jerome Robbins, but the end result is a beautiful collection of shots that combine stasis and playful angles. It made the movie at least three times more enjoyable than a dull, standard shot/reverse shot fare would have provided.
I really enjoyed this movie, though it might not be for people who have a hard time watching old hokey movies or for people who don’t enjoy musicals. The length could also serve as a problem, but since the entirety of the movie is filled with fantastic music and great performances, it feels justified when you finish the film. West Side Story deserves its status as one of the greatest musicals of all time, and I feel enriched for having finally seen it.
Final rating: 8/10
–James A. Janisse