Image from poster for the Royal Lilliputians, c. 1900
I'm genuinely afraid, because I think the invasion has begun. That's right - the invasion of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirls. Movie critic Nathan Rabin warned us that it was coming. He and his friends at the AV Club even gave us a list of the top suspects - but did we listen? No! And now it's too late. I've seen the horror of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl invasion, and it's not pretty. Well, it is actually very pretty - that's part of the problem!
Let me start again. 500 Days of Summer is the first feature of music-video director Marc Webb, a romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a hopeless romantic and aspiring architect who is heavily influenced by mopey British pop music and works at a greeting card company. Deschanel plays Summer (get it?), a... well, a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl with all the weirdness and baggage and impulsiveness that comes with being one of those. She doesn't believe in true love and likes to be fun and casual. When Summer comes to work at Tom's card company, he immediately falls in love with her, and they begin a bumpy affair rife with passion and angst. Tom learns a lot of lessons from Summer along the way - why? Because Manic Pixie Dreamgirls exist to help brooding sensitive-type guys learn to be fun and easy-going and live in the now and reach for the stars, etc.
500 Days of Summer doesn't sound like that bad of a movie when you just describe it like that. And Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are talented and capable of making the most of the material they have to work with, right? I admit that their performances were just fine, but this movie just has too many other strikes against it. First, it is "The Movie of a Thousand Gimmicks". It tries to use all the cliches that you see in quirky romantic comedies: non-linear storytelling, an intrusive narrator, animated interstitial sequences, an out-of-nowhere musical production number, a little sister who talks like an adult and gives sage advice, a foreign film parody sequence, a monologue about the meaninglessness of greeting cards, interview segments with the characters talking to the camera, a split-screen sequence showing two different ways a scene could play out, etc. It must be tempting to use so many gimmicks when you're making a retread of prior Manic Pixie Dreamgirl rom-coms, but it just draws attention away from the leads' solid performances. And the culture references are so intrusive that my eye-rolling knew no bounds. Tom and Summer love to go to IKEA. They like to talk about the Smiths. They sing Pixies songs at karaoke. They hang out at a cafe with '80s video game tables. 500 Days of Summer has at least six moments as gag-inducing as the "this band will change you life" scene with the Shins in Garden State. It was ALL SO TWEE. I have a high tolerance for twee, but this movie gave me a twee seizure (or "tweezure").
I like the leads well enough and they definitely make 500 Days of Summer much more watchable than it would be with, say, Jason Biggs and Lindsay Lohan. But I had trouble sympathizing with Deschanel's character at all, mostly because the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl doesn't believe in long-term consequences of any kind. And the narrative style of the movie is a disjointed, insubstantial mess. It was disappointing to hear that Zooey Deschanel said at Sundance that she felt a strong connection with the script, making me think that she may be the worst kind of Manic Pixie Dreamgirl in real life. I still like Joseph Gordon-Levitt a lot, though - he's the standout in this movie, and I hope he gets some better projects (like Brick or The Lookout) in the near future.
"Here Comes Your Man" by the Pixies