Here is a special treat for ECMWC readers (reader?). An old friend of mine, known to this blog as “Melanie’s First Husband,” has contributed an entry. I am very excited about this, not only because I agree wholeheartedly with the subject matter but because MFH is a talented and hilarious individual. Back in my college days his (hand-written!) letters were always a treat – for the writing and also for that fact that he would include random items like bottle caps and those little plastic hangers you get when you buy a pair of socks. Enjoy!
First of all, let me say that I have come here to praise Joseph Gordon-Levitt not bury him. My wife and I saw “500 Days of Summer” this weekend and, while it wasn’t the best movie we’ve ever seen nor was it formulaic or entirely predictable (addendum: it was unpredictable in ways that go beyond the fact that the finite-ness of the title actually makes it impossible for the two leads to end up together (apologies for spoiling that for anyone who can’t read and/or deduce that if they got together it would be called “Endless Days of Summer”).
The point is that it wasn’t the best movie, in part because if it had been, Joseph Gordon-Levitt wouldn’t have been in it. If it had been the best movie it would have been offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. Then Matt Damon. Then Ashton Kutcher. Each of whom would have destroyed it in their own way (addendum: I like Matt Damon but he’s too big a star to not do what is described in the next sentence). For “500 Days of Summer” to be made as it was, it required an actor that (paradoxically) has the clout to get such a movie made and distributed but doesn’t have the clout to re-write it to fit the “character” he plays in the American (like how John Wayne always played “John Wayne”).
Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have this problem (addendum: this might because he’s not that good looking. My wife called him “an uglier version of Cang” who is a guy we know. You’d be hard-pressed to refer to any of Mr. Gordon -Levitt’s aforementioned contemporaries as an ugly version of anyone you know). He isn’t a huge “movie star”. Yet. He’s an actor who is forced to follow the material and pick good projects. And thus far he has been picking movies that I have enjoyed.
“500 Days of Summer” is equal parts rom-com, musical, drama and animated Bollywood dance number. And Mr. Gordon-Levitt is alone at it’s emotional center (addendum: a lot of people will say that Zooey Deschanel is shouldering some of the weight but I would advise that they see it again). He plays is the one who loves and loses, she is merely the object of these.
Gordon-Levitt has made “The Lookout” which is a the kind of movie that would have made him a star in the ’70’s. And “Brick” which is unequivocally my favorite movie made in the last decade. Again none of these can be mass-marketed to sell T-shirts or cross-promoted with Burger King but they are the kind of movies that fans of good movies should enjoy (this may be the best streak of an actor making movies exclusively for one person since Jim Caviezel made a movie about baseball then a movie about Jesus and then a movie about golf seemingly to impress my father).
The point is that those movies wouldn’t have been made (or, at the very least, wouldn’t have had been made as they were) without Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And therein lies my dilemma; do I root for my favorite working actor to do well and get cast in bigger movies or do I hope that he maintains the status-quo and just makes movies that I like?
It is like hoping that a restaurant you discovered does well enough to stay in business but not so well as to preclude you from getting a table. And please bear in mind that I’m totally the good news guy. I don’t really root against anyone (not even the Yankees, I just want the Red Sox to win their games!) but I find myself secretly hoping that Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have a tent-pole in his immediate future.
Now there is the “GI Joe” situation, which one hopes he made in the same way that George Clooney made “Batman and Robin” i.e., as a pay-cheque that freed him up to make some really interesting choices in the decade following. Without having seen it, I assume “GI Joe” to be a Channing Tatum vehicle and/or a pyro-technic vehicle and doubt Gordon-Levitt will shoulder any of the blame for that debacle. But all of that said, it is a fact that “GI Joe” will make more in it’s opening weekend than “Brick”, “The Lookout” and “500 Days of Summer” will make in their combined theatrical run. And that being said, one can imagine that it is difficult to turn down the kind of bank those movies offer.
But maybe he will. Maybe he’ll continue to take interesting projects; maybe he’ll work with quality directors (that’s the key, by the way); maybe he’ll be the rare actor that wants to be an actor not a movie star; maybe…maybe.
Either way, I’m rooting for him.
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