500 DAYS OF SUMMER and PAPER HEART Sundance 2009 Reviews

     January 18, 2009

Written by Kenny Fischer

I saw two films right in a row today that turned the romantic/comedy genre on its head. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and PAPER HEART. 500 is a non-linear look at a relationship that turns disastrous. PAPER is a faux documentary about a female comedian tackling her disbelief in love. It was a fascinating double feature, and they’re my two favorite films of the festival so far. Now regarding 500 DAYS OF SUMMER…

It’s perfect. If I had it my way (and could get away with it) that would be my review. That’s exactly what I was thinking as the closing credits were rolling. I can’t speak for how I’ll feel in the future after the film has sunk in and I’ve gained a sense of perspective. And I certainly can’t speak for how I’ll feel about it after multiple viewings. But I can say that at this moment, I think it’s perfect.

PAPER HEART isn’t perfect but it’s very, very good. It’s charming, romantic, hilarious, and made me melt during a few key moments. Charlyne Yi has an approach all her own, and whenever she shares the screen with Michael Cera I ended up laughing my ass off. I loved the film’s approach, structure, and point of view.

Both films are pretty unorthodox. Some assholes would say 500 is ANNIE HALL: THE REMIX, but fuck ’em. The tone and structure are amazing, and the juxtaposition of moments, both sublime and heart-breaking, over the course of a long relationship give the film a unique and fresh sense of humor. PAPER mixes real (sort of) interviews with old married couples, not dissimilar to WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, with a pseudo narrative about Yi’s relationship with Michael Cera. It sounds confusing, but it’s much more organic than you’d expect.

Although they have nothing in common, you couldn’t find more likable leads than Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel in 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera in PAPER HEART. Levitt was mind-blowing in BRICK and proves here that he can hack it as an adult in the comedy world. Deschanel is just as lovable as you’d expect, and has basically redeemed herself for her work in THE HAPPENING (I blame M. Night.) Yi is a remarkably talented actress but probably won’t get credit for it because her job is to appear as if she’s just the subject of a documentary. Cera is exactly what you’d expect– funny as fuck.

I loved both of the movies, but the real MVP is Marc Webb, the director of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. This is one of the most beautiful, visually inventive, and energetic romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Most films of this nature are talking heads, point-and-shoot bullshit. Webb brings a strong sense of style to the film, and his choices only enhance the narrative and character work. Expect him to become one of the big dogs almost immediately.

Everyone will be talking about 500 DAYS OF SUMMER soon, as the film has the option to be the biggest film in Fox Searchlight’s history. Since that’s the case, I should probably close with a raving endorsement of PAPER HEART. It’s a must-see film that’s clever and romantic in all the right ways. Yi and the other filmmakers have a very quirky and endearing sensibility, and I’d like to see them tackle other subjects, rather than just those of the heart.

P.S. According to the press notes, “Cera will star in the lead role in YEAR ONE, a film based on Cera’s favorite book, for director Miguel Arteta at the Weinstein Company.” That’s probably the funniest mistake I’ve read in a while.

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