(500) Days of Bummer: A Survey of Existential Pop Films.

This film seemed to be right up my alley.  I have always thought Zooey Deschanel was pretty cool.  Angels in the Outfield was pretty gangster when I was a scrappy young pup.  Everyone knows my enjoyment of Downtown Los Angeles and rooftop drinking.  I also enjoy love.  That’s why when everyone came home from Sundance chasing their tails in circles over the apparent heir to Garden State, I was very down to see it.


And I did.  And I liked it.  I liked it like I like a grilled chicken sandwich.  I was full, but it wasn’t a revelation.

I didn’t love it.  I liked it.  I liked the tasteful soundtrack that went from The Smiths to the Doves, all the way to the bottom of the corn syrup can with some Hall and Oates.  I liked the artwork and the set design.  It was all familiar.  It was a Silverlake infusion of downtown.  The film contained a lot of tiny little vignettes reminding us of missed connections and the frustration of the girl who would have gotten away if we’d have stopped locking her in a clear glass cage and poking her while begging her to stay.  Before I grew up and started living the dream, I could even sympathize with our bro-tagonist Tom.

(SIDE NOTE:  LIVING THE DREAM: a brief mid-blog musing)

for those of you curious as how to live the dream, it is really simple.  meet a girl (or guy) who likes you for you and tell her (or him) the truth even if it is totally fucked up.  that’s the ticket.  be weird, be random, be yourself with zero fear of the consequences and the person of your dreams will figure it out and love you for it.  i promise.  everyone in lost angeles should know this.  the bad people weed themselves out for you as long as you cut them loose –or get them to cut you loose–as long as you pay attention to signals.  if you are miserable, get out.  it’s as hard and easy as that.

for the rest of you still figuring out how to take advantage of the opposite sex, that’s even more simple, although if you have graduated college and are still doing this, get a life already.  stop playing nintendo on easy.

anyway, here’s my foolproof plan for high schoolers needing to get in the game.  treat nice people like shit and treat shitty people like visiting foreign dignitaries.  the simple confusion this will create will be enough to make said target of your tomfoolery think you are interesting.  ‘why do they treat me unlike the rest of the world?’  it isn’t until after college that girls realize they want nice people.  so my advice young men, to not ever have to be a ‘Tom’ is to be a dick to nice girls and to be nice to dick girls until you get your bachelor’s degree, then just be nice to everyone unless they watch “the hills”.

I think this movie itself wasn’t the problem.  I think the love affair with the film is.  Bloggers wax poetic about how beautiful they made LA look.  Really?  What part?  The part where they shot it to look like New York?  I thought “I Love You, Man” made LA look prettier.  Actually, every Judd Apatow-related film ever did that.  Downtown specifically?  “Collateral” by Michael Mann with a very creepy Tom Cruise in it made Downtown look like magic.  And moreso, it did it in a way that looked real.  I thought (500) Days was confused somewhere between Wes Anderson and Sophia Coppola.  Ultimately, that’s a fun place to be and the film was good enough to sit through and smile at.  But let’s be honest, aren’t we all getting tired of the Wes Anderson knock-offs?  It’s a ton of people who write non-sequiter dialogue, throw up tons of title cards in bold yellow fonts, shoot on film to look like late 70s film stock and dress everyone like they picked out their clothes on day three of a week-long acid trip at your father in law’s closet.  Anyone can do it, only Wes Anderson made it awesome.  He always finds a way to create characters with ghosts and demons, even in his colorful and silly world.

So if the filmmakers of (500) stumble on this, take no offense.  You did a good job.  I liked the movie.  When people asked me if they should see it, I said ‘for sure’.  I think what was triggering my anger with the response to this film is it inspires most of us to chase our tails even more.  This was existentialism without the “you are gonna die part”.

I think many people who loved this film, or better said, needed this film, chose to ignore the fait accompli ending where Tom meets Autumn and she totally hates Ringo and thinks Tom’s dumps smell like rosewater.  Most people who loved this film, unless I’m off, loved it because they related to loving someone who was not quite there.

Somewhere out of the Wes Anderson, Coen Bros universe was birthed this sub-genre I called the “existential pop” film.  Lost in Translation, Garden State, I Heart Huckabees, On The Road With Judas.  Shit, I’ll even throw in Superbad, Wall-E and Stranger Than Fiction.  These were all ultimately films about the lighter side of the darker side of the fleeting human existence.  They are about finding a smile or a kiss in the midst of a sinking ship and marveling at the beauty of the stars on the way into the frigid, churning deep.


this film was so good I even though scarlett could act.

Each of these films had that moment where it all became real and we felt with the character an understanding that the world is a mess and we might as well enjoy what we can while we can.  In Stranger Than Fiction it was Will Ferrell’s sheepish cover of “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric.  In Garden State we had the primal scream in the rain down into the great abyss.  In Wall-E we had his and Eve’s vapor trailer swirling flight together through space.  I Heart Huckabees we had the “smacking our face with the red balls” realization and Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts’ realization that not-pretty could be pretty.  Fuck, Super Bad had the pizza bagels part.


Lost in Translation was the “Godfather” of this genre.  It was a love story without sex.  It was like watching the briefest moment of freedom for two people who’s lives had ultimately not gone the way they wanted.  People who loved (500) Days loved it because it didn’t force you to hold up a mirror to yourself at the end like “The Graduate” did, a film clearly celebrated by the filmmakers and in my mind, the film the entire genre was based on.  I kept struggling with the filmmakers intent with the Graduate usage.  I thought the best scene of the film was showing how Tom thought the film ended happy, but Summer thought it was a sad ending.  It was so strange because the filmmakers of (500) Days never made us look in the mirror.  They said, Tom met a hot new girl and forgave Summer for being a total tuna.  What?  I can promise you one thing, Summer didn’t like (500) Days of Summer if she rented it.

i think one of the most famous images of this movement of films.

i think one of the most famous images of this movement of films.

All of us who love the genre probably agree.  We hope things worked out, but they probably didn’t.  Ben Braddock didn’t end up with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.  The highlight was the sprint from the church, not the next 40 years.  Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsson didn’t meet up in LA later.  It was all about the magic in Tokyo.

In the end, I think a lot of us love the style of existential pop filmmaking.  We love the music.  We grew up with MTV and we like to use our iPods to add a soundtrack to our own existences.  Our lives seem to feel like these movies.  But let’s not confuse the Lost in Translations with the (500) Days of Summers. Both films had a lot to sit back and enjoy.

Only Summer let us and Tom off easy.



Filed under Rants and Musings

5 responses to “(500) Days of Bummer: A Survey of Existential Pop Films.

  1. I heartily agree about the “making LA look like NY thing.” Shit, I thought it WAS New York and wondered “What the hell is the ucla band doing in NY?” (or in a movie at all)

    I liked the movie a lot and would say it’s my favorite of the year so far. I still agree with a lot of what you said, however, the ending is why I liked it. Maybe it’s just because I want to believe in fate.

    I didn’t interpret it as Autumn is the girl of his dreams. I saw it more as maybe she is, maybe she isn’t, but if not her, then someone else is out there.

    And I think your description of “living the dream” fits the film perfectly. Summer gave him all the signs, but he ignored them because he envisioned her as being perfect. He isn’t forgiving her; he’s forgiving himself for being blindly in love.

    Was Summer kind of a bitch? Well, sure. But she never pretended she wasn’t. Tom’s just as much at fault for living the lie as she is.

  2. Schmicky

    Very well put, a nice analysis of not only 500 Days of Summer but of the whole existential genre.

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