Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(500) Days of Summer, For the Love of LA

(I'm warning you now, if you haven't watched this movie, this post will not make any sort of sense.)

It's been almost a year since I first wrote about "(500) Days of Summer."

Lots of things have happen since last August. I find that when I watch movies, a lot of what I take away has to do with my emotions at the time. When I watched "Paper Heart," I was feeling rather chirpy and optimistic, so I felt buoyed and cheered by the movie (review some other time).

I knew that I really liked "(500) Days of Summer" when I re-watched it and found that I was carried away by the film, without being unduly influenced by my own internal thoughts. I fell back in love with Tom Hansen, I rekindled my love of The Smiths and Regina Spektor, and I re-listened to the soundtrack, which I had purchased after my first viewing of the movie. Still good.

More than anything, the way Los Angeles is portrayed in this movie is amazing. I don't know if this would be the same if I didn't know the city, but I do know the city, and I love the city, and this movie really beautifully displays honest parts of the city without Vaseline-smeared lenses of googly-eyed love. One of the scenes in this movie that really sticks out in my mind is when Tom goes to a rooftop party at Summer's apartment and, realizing that she is engaged and his fantasy of a romantic reunion are kaput, leaves in a cloud of tears and self-hatred. He emerges from her building, banging through black iron bars, behind which are green plants and pretty flowers. He's back out on the concrete, outside of Summer's cage, the confines of which are where he wants to be. He doesn't want to be released back into the city, he wants to stay trapped.

It's a sad scene, to be sure, and the side-by-side of Tom's expectations versus the reality of the party are depressing and poignant. I love that. I didn't really get that until the second viewing of this movie because the first time I saw the film, I was too distracted by the fact that Summer lived in the Barclay, a building that I almost lived in. I looked at places in both the Barclay and the Piccadilly and ended up at the Piccadilly, for a year of living amongst the worst drivers in the city. There were a lot of those distractions for me when I first watched the movie, and it took me away from the story. This time, I was better prepared for it and less distracted, to discover new depths to the film that I very much enjoyed.

When Tom dances in glee after a big night with Summer, with cartoon bluebird, UCLA marching band, and pedestrians in blue, he trips merrily through the Civic Center Mall and right in front of the Arthur Will Memorial Fountain, places I have been. Regretfully, I have not danced in any of the places Tom dances in, though I did have a memorable dance in a bookstore once to an Etta James song. (For all the LA locations, see this handy Google map.)

The gray cement tunnel that Tom and Summer drive into as they listen to Carla Bruni, the ugly parking structures, the cracked sidewalks, the suburban soccer fields, the douchey bars, all of these are background blips in the movie but such strong indicators of LA. As much as the movie is about a relationship between two people, it's also about this flawed but interesting city. There's a vibe and an energy that the movie really captured, that isn't really describable but very palpable as soon as you set foot in LA (downtown, really, the westside does not have the same sensibilities at all).

I don't go to downtown often, but I always find it immensely absorbing every time I do. I used to go downtown for art shows, where wine and cheese were served alongside avant garde and often gruesome pieces of art. I don't pretend to have like all the shows, but I loved the people: the weird, the ugly, the incredible, and I always enjoyed how the art crowd devolved into a party crowd by the time the liquor was dwindling down to its final dregs.

Tom and Summer and all their friends are definitely the softer side of downtown LA. There are plenty of harder-edged people there, that wouldn't give a second glance to a sweet boy like Tom. It's part of what makes downtown so fun, and gives it its unique energy.

For a movie made on a shoestring budget (less than $10 million), it's amazing how well everything was depicted. Marc Webb, thank you for the love sonnet to LA, it makes me miss home.