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“It’s like shorthand for joy.”

9 Jan 2010 (Sat)

(c) Fox Searchlight Pictures

It was not without trepidation I sat down to watch (500) Days of Summer. A foray into the world of boy-meets-girl is second to last on my list of things I feel like seeing these days. But I’m a sucker for any attempt at a well-integrated soundtrack, so me and my crankiness balled ourselves up on the couch, remotes at the ready for screen-chucking… and Kleenex also at the ready, for sniveling, because I am a jaded thirty-something experiencing what could accurately be called a bleak midwinter.

And here the story begins by mentioning sad Brit-pop. Two words (three if you don’t count hyphens), and I’m hooked. Several minutes later, they namedrop Belle & Sebastian. And my inner twee squeals like a schoolgirl. A very, very twee schoolgirl. I am without a doubt as jaded as they come these days, and I’m incredibly skeptical about how Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to pull off this role with any sincerity whatsoever… Cue the IKEA scene, and now I’m smiling. They are quick-witted, they have excellent taste in music, they mock Swedish furniture names… Have I mentioned Tom opts for the Pixies at karaoke? I don’t care that they’re fictional characters, I want to have a beer with these people every goddamn night of the week.

Rewind to this summer, when NPR interviewed director Marc Webb about soundtracking the film. I tuned in about halfway through, smack in the middle of Webb’s explanation for using “You Make My Dreams Come True” for a choregraphed dance montage. Wait… Did I hear “dance montage”? In an indie film? Recipe for disaster, surely… And yet… The song plays, and I’m chairdancing. Or more accurately driver’s-seat-dancing. To an NPR interview. Clearly, they know their demographic. They know I am still listening because I heard “indie film” and “music”; they know I am chairdancing because they’re playing bouncy Hall and Oates. And now they know I will see this movie because oh my God how can I not?

Everyone else will tell you about the film’s narrative, so I wanted to focus on the music. That being said, part of the reason this genre of music is so effective is the story itself: it’s brutal and evocative in its truth. Granted, not everyone’s truth; maybe not even most people’s truth. But it resonated with me, as I imagine it would with many of my friends. Yes, those of us who’ve spent twelve hours crafting a single mixtape; but perhaps more importantly those of us who want so much but expect so little; who dwell in our uncertainties, endlessly mulling them over, exhausting ourselves in the process. Those of us in a constant tug-of-war between idealism and reality, still trying to figure out how to live between the two; skeptical that it’s even possible.

I could’ve added a metric crapload of links to video clips, because they’re out there. But I’m purposefully avoiding it, because I think you should, too. The film’s full range of emotion is best experienced in sequence, as the rollercoaster the director intended. I disagree with the critics saying some of the narrative uses of music are forced: of course Tom plays the Smiths on his shitty computer speakers as a test to see if Summer will notice, such things are the #1 reason aging hipsters keep iTunes libraries at work. And the “You Make My Dreams Come True” dance sequence? Clubbed baby seals couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face, because yes, it’s ridiculous and cliché but goddamnit if that isn’t exactly how that moment feels. I’ll say it: Webb nailed these just as well as he nailed the usage of the typical non-narrative tracks. Every song is naturally embedded into the scene, hitting the mark where most films (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, anyone?) failed. It proves that the image/music interplay is an art form all its own.

If you can’t help but go through life hearing a soundtrack that’s sometimes ridiculous, and usually more revealing than you’d care to admit, (500) Days of Summer is a non-saccharine, still-sweet little ditty you won’t want to miss. Sometimes the best possible music video for a song is life itself; sometimes life illustrates what’s best about a song.

~ r.

*Thanks to Mark Webb for the title of this post, as quoted in the NPR interview (link above).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim permalink
    9 Jan 2010 (Sat) 3:57 pm

    We just watched this last weekend. I enjoyed your analysis of the music. The movie itself left me with an uncomfortable unsettledness at the end. I guess that means it did a good job at telling the story it set out to tell.

    • ryeginald permalink*
      10 Jan 2010 (Sun) 11:22 pm

      I think you’re right: there’s definitely an unsettledness to the whole thing, and it sticks with you through the credits. But that’s also part of why I enjoyed it. It was comforting –albeit in a backwards way– to see a story I could actually relate to, instead of the usual, “…Too bad that never happens in real life” feeling I get with most other boy-meets-girl crapfests. I’m really quite sick of Hollywood’s happy endings; they just make real-life endings suck even more by comparison. I know, I know, I know… it could just be the doldrums talking… But I’m pretty sure 99.9999999% of romantic comedies are craptacular even in sunny-72 weather.

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