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Color My Life With The Chaos of Trouble

Color My Life With The Chaos of Trouble (photo)

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Like the rest of us, critics like to be taken seriously, and so post-teen romantic comedies like Marc Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer” can have a tough time receiving top-shelf adjectives. It’s safer to hold high an austere import or socially-conscious “issue” drama. The problem is, for all of its borrowings, there hasn’t been a movie quite like Webb’s in a very long time, if ever.

“(500) Days of Summer” shimmies through a delicate life-passage terrain few movies have explored with intelligence — Joan Darling’s “First Love” (1977) comes to mind, and a great Korean film still to see the light of day here, Hur Jin-ho’s “One Fine Spring Day” (2001) — and does it with what seems to be an inexhaustible gas tank of invention, brio, naturalistic wit and love.

It’s this last thing, love, that fills the movie up like a zeppelin — love for its characters and for tale-telling and for what we dream of love stories to be and for what they really are. Plus, a love for The Smiths, “The Graduate,” bouncy small talk, karaoke, the parts of Los Angeles you never see in films (thank God), the ’60s, being young and heartbroken, and the way light shines through Zooey Deschanel’s baby-blue irises. Because the love is genuine and not three-dollar-bill fake as it is in most American movies, the experience is invigorating, like a B-complex injection on a warm spring day.

01042010_500Days2.jpgThe welter of details fire-hosing out of the movie would be enough to win us over: the conscientiously fable-like narration (which builds evidence for the very special “averageness” of Deschanel’s Summer by explaining how her yearbook quote of Belle & Sebastian spiked record sales in Michigan that year), the teeming animated detours (love the architectural sketches, but the cartoon songbirds might’ve been too much), the spray of specific cultural references, the now-famous post-coital dance number, the half-lit karaoke perfs that make the protagonists irresistible in each others’ eyes. And so on. (An offhand argument re: “Octopus’s Garden”: “I love Ringo,” “C’mon, nobody loves Ringo,” “That’s what I love about him.”)

It would’ve been easy to be happy with the film if it was just a mess of this stuff, but it’s a densely structured movie, a fugue between the romance’s early dizziness and its later terminal agonies, bouncing back and forth from early in the 500 days to late, and often revisiting the same moments over and over, corresponding them to others. And a case could be made that for all of its cleverness Webb’s film runs on old-fashioned movie star charm, located and nurtured like orchids — easy to kill, but beautiful when respected.

Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have lovely, self-conscious, secret-keeping, fast-talking characters to play and they play them like a thoroughbreds; I especially liked the degree to which both Summer and Levitt’s Tom did things without understanding why, and how the two actors let those moments crackle with mystery. You believe these kids, which makes their enjoyment of and amazement with each other heroically seductive.

01042010_500Days3.jpgBut you step back a bit, and “(500) Days” has a larger dialogue to have with us and the culture we’re in — specifically, about the mileage between now and the ’60s, and how for Summer and Tom’s generation an idealization of the supercool free-love past is a way to manage the empty-hearted present. Which is cinephilia, isn’t it? The catnip alt-rock soundtrack is contemporary, until the movie’s final suite, under Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends,” when the relationship is dying on-screen but no one says anything about it.

The film is saturated with movie-love, in an expressly Godardian way — why can’t I go through a week without dropping the G-bomb? — comically referencing “Breathless” as well as Anna Karina’s coif. But the key to the hidden levels is “The Graduate,” which is used wittily at first as a flashback riff: the narrator tells us that, as a child, Tom accrued a warped sense of cosmic romance from British pop songs and “a total misreading” of Mike Nichols’ 1967 classic. Hardy har, until the end, when Tom and Summer go to a revival of the movie, and at the climax, Summer is left weeping for the wrecked promise of perfect love she always knew was a lie, and Tom still holds on blindly to the dream.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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