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(500) Days of Summer (2009) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
ImageIf you’ve ever been, you know as I do that downtown Los Angeles is an unlikely setting for a love story.  Of course, as the movie’s unseen narrator insists on warning us right away, (500) Days of Summer is NOT a love story.  You would be hard-pressed, however, to place it in another genre.  Though its setting, storytelling techniques and ending are unconventional, this film is ALL about what happens when boy meets girl.  And, no matter the outcome, it is better than most romantic comedies made today.

A young boy misunderstands The Graduate and grows up to be a hopeless romantic.  He goes to work at a greeting card company where he falls for an amazing girl who doesn’t believe in love.  This is the basic set-up for the tale of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), whose bittersweet relationship is dissected in the space of this film.

The action bounces back and forth in time, always announcing with a cute graphic which of the 500 days the viewer is now peering in on.  The anger and angst of day 288, for example, might be followed by the sweetness of day 38.  This gimmick allows the filmmakers (director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber) to show in stark contrast where things went right and where they went not so right.  Joy and heartbreak are portrayed side by side, reminding us that love is sometimes a cardboard box full of awesome and sometimes a raging bitch.  Despite the omniscient narrator with the deep narrator-y voice, (500) Days of Summer is told from Tom’s point of view (if it had been Summer’s, I assume it would have been called (500) Days of Tom.  We experience the relationship through Tom’s eyes, rooting for him to get the ungettable girl.  Tom desperately wants something meaningful with Summer and Summer just wants to have some unfettered fun.  

This role reversal is incredibly refreshing.  I am long done with the string of Hollywood films all selling the same theory of romance today – women are breathlessly desperate to get rings on their fingers and men are just as energetically running in the opposite direction.  It’s nice to see the woman be the commitment-phobe for once.  This may come as a shock to folks who take in a lot of pop culture, but there are actually men who want to get married in this world and women who don’t.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are both excellent in this film.  He is absolutely perfect as the poor love struck schmuck with the puppy dog eyes and she is so adorable that you can’t even hate her for not wanting to commit.  From everything I’ve seen, Zooey Deschanel can do no wrong.  She shines here as always and I hope this begins a trend of leading roles for her.  I would rather see her star in the indie world than play best friend back up to lesser actresses in the studio world (yes, Failure to Launch, I’m talking to you).  The two actors have an easy chemistry and are incredibly charming together onscreen.  It is not, however, a very sexual chemistry, and this is perhaps because Tom places Summer on a pedestal, instead of treating her like an equal partner.  She always seems like the girl who is just beyond his reach.

The cast is filled out with typical romantic comedy supporting roles.  Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler play Tom’s requisite goofy buddies but happily both do so with aplomb.  Clark Gregg is quite competent as Tom’s forgiving boss.  The only role that gave me some pause was Rachel (Chloe Moretz), Tom’s precocious, wise-beyond her years little sister who acts as his therapist and life coach.  In a movie filled with characters who feel like real people, Rachel is the only one who seems contrived and one-dimensional.  Her advice, however, is pretty sound.  It’s important to remember, for example, that a shared taste in music is not necessarily a foundation for a lifelong commitment to someone.

Director Marc Webb employs a number of clever filmmaking gimmicks to tell his story.  As much as I enjoyed a number of them (the movie definitely had the best “I’m so happy because I had sex last night” scene ever), they kept me at arms length.  I never got lost in the action and was always aware I was watching a film.  It is a delicate balance when using such devices to make the most of them while still maintaining the illusion of the medium and in this case the filmmaker landed just a bit on the heavy-handed side.  On the other hand, (500) Days of Summer oozes charm from every pore. It offers a fresh take on the genre, two lovable performances and is worth checking out.

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