No hugging, no learning

My first thought, upon walking out of the showing of (500) Day of Summer at the theater, was: Fuck. I wish I’d seen this movie 9 years ago instead of High Fidelity.

High Fidelity

Which is no knock on John Cusack’s last great film. But when Rob asks the question, “What came first, the music or the misery?” we all know what he means. We’ve got 3 generations raised on a shared history of pop songs, rom-coms and happy Hollywood endings. Rob still got his Hollywood Ending, more or less. For High Fidelity, it was daring enough to suggest a happy coupling with no plans of marriage.

500 DaysPoster

(500) Days of Summer is the movie for all those people who didn’t get the happy ending. It’s kind of an anti-romantic comedy, while still suggesting that the idea of romantic happiness isn’t totally absurd, just hard to attain. John Cusack convinced us, a decade ago, that with the right musical tastes, self-deprecation, painful yearning and a timely death in the family, you can, in fact Get Her Back. It made for an enjoyable movie, but did it not make High Fidelity ultimately as culpable as all those thousands of love songs Rob decries? High Fidelity told us what we wanted to hear, but (500) Days of Summer tells us what we need to hear.

Day 488

I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel do not end up together. If they did, there’d be no reason to make this movie. This is a wonderful, charming, devastating, enjoyable movie that cuts very deep into your soul. If you are a man who walks out of this movie without seeing a piece of himself on the screen, then fuck you. This is not a movie of happy banter and meet-cutes, it’s about playing music by a band you know she likes, hoping she’ll notice, and getting nothing. As Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, back when he was good: “The one you love, and the one who loves you, are never, ever the same person.”

Tom and Summer

I could go on and on here, about the way the movie portrays memory in relationships to heighten the good or the bad, depending on mood, but there are other, better reviews written out there. I just wanted to say that I really liked this movie, probably my favorite of the year so far. I mean, what’s not to love about a film where Gordon-Levitt’s Tom Hansen looks at his reflection after nailing Zooey and sees Han Solo winking back at him? If Tom ultimately learns any life lessons, he’s willing to forget them immediately upon meeting a new target of infatuation at the end of the film. And ain’t that how it always goes.

We've all been here.

I’m telling you all this, because I’m going to absolutely bury the next movie I talk about. So don’t say Benjamin Light never liked a good film. I’m not pure hater; I just have standards.

Judd Apatow does not.

The movie review headlines just write themselves

The movie review headlines just write themselves

There a million flaws I could nitpick in Funny People, but I just want to focus on one scene and one joke. They do well enough to illustrate Judd’s complete lack of talent. (Yes, I actually watched this movie. I am a masochist. It’s 2 and half fucking hours long. Seriously)

Adam Sandler’s George Simmons has beaten cancer and gone up to Nor-Cal to steal Leslie Mann away from her husband. Leslie obliges by making George go down on her, then forcing him to watch a home video of her older daughter performing Cats in a school play. George finds it vaguely entertaining in a “youtube unintentional comedy” sort of way, and when Leslie calls him on it later, he’s like look, I’ve been to Broadway, I’ve seen the real Cats.

Leslie Mann glances over at the Hollywood Actor she's cheating on Judd with

Leslie Mann glances over at the Hollywood Actor she's cheating on Judd with

Properly delivered, and with balls, this is a great joke. Comedy is about taking risks, after all. There’s plenty of laughs to be mined in telling someone that their kid is a hack. But here’s the problem: it’s Judd Apatow’s kid. And Leslie Mann is Judd’s wife. If Judd had any balls as a comedian at all, he’d play a joke like this up. But instead, it gets tossed off a signal to the audience that George is To Be Frowned At. Because how could you not like watching Judd’s cute kids in their home videos?

And therein lies the problem with Apatow. Always striving for the sentimental bullshit he didn’t earn. He name-checks Seinfeld, but he’s learned (sic) nothing from Larry David?

The Gold Standard

The Gold Standard

This is also another example of the Peter Jackson corollary: if you feature your kids prominently in more than 100 frames of your movie, you’re a self-indulgent ass. Nobody cares about your wife and kids, Judd. Your movie is an hour too long and real comedians would have taken the piss out of a mom who entertains herself by putting peanut butter on her face for the dog to lick off. There’s actually a whole scene devoted to letting us know that Leslie Mann still fits into her old jeans and has nice abs. Yeah, we get it, Judd. Bully for you. P.S. You’re Jewish? Hoolllly Shit! I never would have known that. You only announce it five times in every one of your movies, as if anyone in 2009 America gives a shit about your religion.

"These two pages are the script, we improv all the unfunny bits."

"These two pages are the script, we improv all the unfunny bits."

It’s nice to see that audiences are finally moving beyond this hackish crap. Which doesn’t mean that Americans are getting less stupid, but even they know to look askance at a movie that calls itself Funny People and delivers ads that are not. $23 million opening for a $75 million budget film? That’ll put the brakes on the Apatow mediocrity train. “The Third Film From Judd Apatow” intones to trailer. Christ, what a prick. Sorry, Judd, but even hiring Speilberg’s D.P. won’t make you a good director.

There is hope. (500) Days of Summer averaged more $$ per screen than Funny People.

There is hope. (500) Days of Summer averaged more $$ per screen than Funny People.

In conclusion: Benjamin Light has been saying that Apatow and Rogen sucked for two years. Nobody wanted to admit it, but now you know. People will call this a “backlash,” when Judd was never very talented to begin with, he just had a knack for hating women and appealing to the mouth-breathing mediocrity of his base. Gravy train’s over, Judd. Go ask the Farrelley’s how the ride back down the hill feels. Counterforce 1, America 0.

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7 responses to “No hugging, no learning

  1. I don’t think High Fidelity was about getting her back, but rather, realizing that yearning for some perfect person and continuing to live in stilted adolescence, idolizing past girlfriends, running away when things get rough, wasn’t the way to live life. Rob has a breakthrough when he’s making that mix tape for the woman who writes for the weekly: “when does it stop?” Why is he still chasing someone new and novel when Laura is back home? What exactly is he looking for? Or when he goes to see Charlie again and realizes that she’s completely full of shit and not the goddess he’d made her out to be all those years after she dumped him. I don’t think Rob & Laura get a happy ending, it’s open ended because it’s all a gamble and it’s complicated.

    • High Fidelity isn’t necessarily “about” getting her back, and yet, that’s the result. Their fresh start may be a gamble, but I would still call it a happy ending. Rob achieved his goal: he got the girl. And the fact that he learns something, gets what he needs out of the experience, does not make it any less Hollywood. I definitely see Light’s point that the movie is just as guilty as the songs in question. Which isn’t to say High Fidelity isn’t a great movie. It’s good for all the reasons you touched on. But our lives aren’t quite so tidy.

      Regarding 500 Days of Summer, I enjoyed it quite a lot. There were so many recognizable qualities of relationships in the film. It was almost painful to watch, and I mean that in the best way possible.

      • Yeah, I definitely see what Maria’s saying about Rob’s journey in High Fidelity. His scene with Charlie after her dinner is probably my favorite in the movie. “Why’d you break up with me, Charlie?” is right up there with “You’re wearing my shirt, Gordon,” on the list of all-time great cut-the-bullshit lines.

        But Kitty’s right, no matter the life lessons Rob learns, he still gets to eat his cake too at the end. (Though personally, I would have ditched Laura and her weird low voice for the hot redhead at the end, but that’s just me.) Maybe it’s a little more ambiguous in the novel; but dancing with your newly re-acquired GF while listening to ‘Let’s Get it On,’ experiencing both personal and professional success, feels like a pretty happy ending to me.

        I know exactly what you mean about the painful moments in 500 Days of Summer, Kitty. Hell, I’ve lived some of them. And as a connoisseur of unrequited affections, this was a movie that, dare I say, earns the pain. It was never cheap or over the top (like making a guy watch a video of your daughter singing Memories). I have decided, on a few days reflection, that I really loved the fade-to-illustration moment (screen-capped above.) Very nicely done by the director. It communicates the emotion perfectly. Watching it, I thought. ‘yep, that’s exactly what it feels like.’

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