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Movie Review – 500 Days of Summer
This 2009 romantic comedy is directed by another music video director now turned feature film director Marc Webb. This is the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a self described hopeless romantic who meets a girl that doesn’t believe in true love named Summer (Zooey Deschenel) and their subsequent relationship and sad breakup. From the point of view of Tom’s character, the film spans 500 days of Tom’s unbridled happiness one moment and crippling depression the next all because of a girl named Summer. Can love conquer all or are some relationships just not meant to be?
Finally, in a sea of generic romantic comedies, comes a new movie, an anti-love story that works so well as a romantic comedy, while also working as an ode to lost romances. This is essentially a romantic flick, a chick flick for guys since the main point of view is the male lead and the film is in essence a coming of age story for guys, like the classic film The Graduate which this movie references from time to time. So yeah if you’re a guy who wants to watch some romantic movies but are turned off or scared by the idea of being chastised by your fellow male brethren, then 500 Days of Summer is the perfect movie for you. When your girlfriend says “I want to see 500 Days of Summer, it looks so cute” just nod your head and thank the stars you didn’t have to ask first.
What I found so fascinating about this film is the way it’s structured. The movie begins with a guy afraid to ask a girl out and ends with him changed, now asking a girl out. It’s simplicity at its finest. And all throughout the director and screenwriters built in a great way to tell the story of the 500 days Tom spends with Summer, and rather than tell it in a linear fashion, it jumps around starting with the break-up around day 300, then jumping to day 1 on how they met, then day 50 when they’re happy then day 280 when the seeds of resentment are brewing. It was just fascinating from a storytelling point and really enhanced the story. I mean if the movie was told normally, it wouldn’t have had as much an effect on the audience.
I also really liked how there was a narrator who would chime in during certain parts of the story, making this an almost fairy tale look on realistic love, telling the audience what’s going through Tom’s mind, what are his expectations and what is the reality of the situation- a brilliant little touch.
But my favorite parts of the movie were the little touches in the story, like how certain places could be both magical and heartbreaking for a couple. For example, the movie jumps to like day 52 showing Tom and Summer happily going through Ikea having fun, then later in the film after a few more days, the narrative jumps to like day 250 and shows Tom and Summer in Ikea again with Tom trying to reenact the fun they had months ago together when they were there for the first time and with Summer not being interested. It was this point of the film that it completely had me. It’s like the, “you had me at hello” scene for me in this movie. The touch of showing the simplicity of everyday life and how our memories of places can change from one moment to the next, what may have once been our special place is now just a place of misplaced memories, really got me, the truth of it all, and really, “it had me at hello.”
Any guy who has ever fallen desperately in love with a girl, so much so that they’re blinded by her faults, consumed by just the very presence of her, not just a girl but more a phase of one’s life, will definitely see themselves in Tom’s neurotic 20-something romantic. I mean Summer isn’t the ideal girl, but for Tom, for 500 days, she is. And that’s why I said that Summer is not just a girl but a phase, because she is there to help him grow, help him evolve and understand love better. So we go along for the ride with Tom, we fall in love with Summer too, end up being devastated by her, and in the end ultimately coming to terms with the situation. It’s just great.
Many people who have seen this film have strong feelings against Summer, hating her in fact by the end, calling her uncaring and manipulative. I don’t see it that way. I see it as just two single people getting to know one another, one wanting more the other wanting less, and well, Tom reads perhaps too much into it. None are at fault, it’s just a part of life, and I think the character of Summer was perfect for that time in Tom’s life.
500 Days of Summer also has a fantastic soundtrack. The Smiths music plays prominently in the movie, Hall and Oates, Regina Spektor, Carla Bruni, Feist, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course Zooey’s band, She and Him. However it’s not just the songs, but how the music plays out during the film, the musical lyrics also telling a complimentary story to the one we’re seeing onscreen. A definite great mix of music and is a soundtrack that brings to mind the soundtrack for the 2004 indie film Garden State and how that soundtrack just made the film.
How about the directing? I think Marc Webb has a very unique eye as a director, an eye that seems to be born from music video directing, the split screens, the single shot as a character walks towards the camera, almost bumping into it. What’s odd is that so many of the current crop of really unique and imaginative directors all got their start in music videos, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Michel Gondry.
Let’s talk a little about the acting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, well, he’s one of my favorite young actors and amazing here as always, perfect as Tom, with all his hidden longing and paranoia. If you just remember Gordon-Levitt from 3rd Rock from the Sun and have never seen him in Brick or The Lookout, I urge you to check out how much he’s grown as an actor, becoming the ideal indie artist.
Zooey Deschenel is fantastic here as well, perfectly complimenting Gordon-Levitt’s performance. I mean she doesn’t have much range as an actress and she’s already been typecasted as the quirky girlfriend, but I’ve never found a role she did I didn’t like, and just her charm, her simple grace, it’s easy to see why Tom would fall in love with her even if her character had walls upon walls up, never letting anyone get close. I mean she’s selfish in her own way, but I think that’s what all relationships are about, each of us is selfish in some way, looking/seeking something in another person that we need to feel whole.
I think the creation of 500 Days of Summer was born from a single line a character speaks in the film: “just because someone likes the same thing that another person likes, it doesn’t mean that they’re your soul mate.” I believe that really sums up what this movie is really about- honest relationships that seem so defining at the time, shaping us and allowing us to see the world anew. I mean, yeah its pain. It takes Tom 500 Days to come to grips with the life he’s shared with Summer but you know what, its 500 days a lot of people don’t get to experience, so while the inevitable heartbreak comes, Autumn always follows Summer, so things will once again be bright. So I give this a “bring your lunch from home because you do not want to miss this” rating. I’m saying this right now, in 5 years this will be the new Almost Famous/High Fidelity, the perfect romantic movie for guys.
- things to note: my rating scale works like this- due to how tight money is these days for many people, I wanted to create a rating system that was representative of the times. The highest rating is, “bring your lunch from home because you do not want to miss this.” This is given to movies that I feel are must see’s, even if you have to brown bag it for lunch everyday just to save up the money. The next rating is, “dvd/matinee.” This is given to films that I feel are still a watch, but you can wait until they get released on dvd or see it for the price a cheap matinee. The last rating is, “sneak out/I want my money back.” This is given to those dreadful movies where I feel you should sneak out of the movie if you paid before wasting 2 hours of your life and demand money back from the theater for showing such trite.