Skip to main content

The romantic com­edy is moribund. The first traces of its demise can be dated to the turn of the mil­leni­um, when Hugh Grant decided that he didn’t really want to be the floppy-haired object of middle-class women’s affec­tions. Since then, the genre has been a reli­able pro­du­cer of tired and cyn­ic­al “battles of the sexes” or grown-up fables in which a self-centred man-child dis­cov­ers unlikely love via a woman who is palp­ably too good for him. Earlier this year The Ugly Truth scraped the bot­tom of that bar­rel by try­ing to merge both forms and has yet to be sur­passed as worst film of the year.

(500) Days of Summer posterSo, if ever there was a genre ripe for reboot (like Star Trek earli­er this year) it is the romantic com­edy and, because nature abhors a vacu­um, we now get one. It’s called (500) Days of Summer and it may well be one of the best films of the year.

The time is present day Los Angeles (a street-level Los Angeles not a mil­lion miles away from the charm­ing In Search of a Midnight Kiss earli­er this year) and our hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young vis­ion­ary who no longer believes in him­self: an archi­tect stuck in a dead-end job writ­ing greet­ing cards. He meets his boss’s beau­ti­ful new assist­ant Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and they bond over The Smiths. He is besot­ted. She, not so much, but they start an affair.

For most of the film, Deschanel’s Summer seems like the stand­ard kind of gam­ine-pixie-mys­tery girl-fantasy fig­ure that male Hollywood writers have relied on for years but it is just one of the film’s sev­er­al choice insights that she turns out to be much more (and much less) than that. (500) Days of Summer can be too tricksy, too self-conscious (music­al inter­ludes, funky timeline man­age­ment) and I got the uncom­fort­able feel­ing through­out that writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have, quite frankly, been read­ing my mail, but the final scenes wrap the pack­age up so nicely and sin­cerely that any flaws are eas­ily forgiven.

Samson & Delilah posterAnother mod­ern love story, although strik­ingly dif­fer­ent, is the centrepiece of mod­ern Australian mas­ter­piece Samson and Delilah. In a one-ute vil­lage in the bar­ren interi­or, a small com­munity of abori­gin­als eke out a lonely exist­ence sup­por­ted by the dole and selling the occa­sion­al “nat­ive art work”. It’s the kind of place where gas­ol­ine can be used for only two things – get­ting out or get­ting high, but neither approach does Samson or Delilah any good.

Silent Samson (Rowan McNamara) has a thing for Delilah (Marissa Gibson), but she is look­ing after sickly Nana (Mitjili Napanangka Gibson) and isn’t inter­ested. The growth of their rela­tion­ship, almost entirely word­less, is just one of many won­ders in this beau­ti­ful and har­row­ing film. In trouble in the vil­lage, they shoot through and try and make a go of it in the nearest town but there things go from bad to worse. Their heart­break­ing down­ward spir­al (and unlikely redemp­tion) takes on a meta­phys­ic­al qual­ity, like a dream but embed­ded in a gritty, ter­ri­fy­ing reality.

Throughout, I kept think­ing of the word ali­en­a­tion, but real­ised after­wards that you can’t be ali­en­ated from a soci­ety you were nev­er a part of. This is the kind of film that Ken Loach doesn’t make any more – if he ever did.

In the Loop posterBiggest laughs of the week come from Armando Ianucci’s satir­ic­al his­tory les­son, In the Loop – a fiendish skew­er­ing of the so-called “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” between the Poms and the Yanks. Ianucci’s tele­vi­sion work is legendary – Alan Partridge, the bril­liant and very weird “Time Trumpet” and, of course, the pro­gen­it­or of In the Loop, “The Thick of It” which can still be seen at odd hours of the night on UKTV. “The Thick of It” intro­duced the world to Peter Capaldi’s rep­tili­an press sec­ret­ary Malcolm Tucker, whose capa­city for vit­ri­ol and manip­u­la­tion is undi­min­ished on the big screen.

He’s on the back foot through­out In the Loop, though, as bum­bling low-level cab­in­et min­is­ter Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) puts his foot in it when asked about pre­par­a­tions for war in the Middle East. “Unforeseeable”, he says which is wrong, but then so is “fore­see­able”, and it takes the for­mid­able Tucker the entire film to wrest back the ini­ti­at­ive from Americans on both sides who want to use poor Foster as “meat in the room” to prop up their own agen­das. Soon, every­one is “climb­ing the moun­tain of con­flict”. Do you get the idea of how quot­able this is? Wonderful, cyn­ic­al enter­tain­ment fea­tur­ing many mem­or­able per­form­ances, not least James Gandolfini (TV’s Tony Soprano) in the best big screen work he’s done in years.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 October, 2009.


  • dfmamea says:

    m look­ing for­ward to Samson & Delilah. there’s a nice inter­view with writer-director some­where on National Radio.

    was about to take issue with your Gandolfini com­ment until i real­ised it’s been EIGHT YEARS since he stole The Mexican from Brad ‘n’ Jules.

  • anita says:

    I could­n’t agree more about (500) days of sum­mer. It’s so sin­cere it’s frightening.