Jan 21 2010

Paul Was Right: (500) Days of Summer is a Terrific Movie

Published by at 12:00 pm under Editorials,Movies,Reviews

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When I created my list of the top 10 movies of 2009, I noted that I had regrettably missed (500) Days of Summer.  I had heard plenty of great things about it, and my esteemed colleague Paul enjoyed it so much that he ranked it as the very best film of 2009.  Still, I thought, how could a romantic comedy be held in such high regard?  After finally watching (500) Days of Summer, I learned it’s because the film is hardly a romantic comedy at all.  Instead, it’s an original, engaging, and rich tale of the relationship between a guy and a girl, presented in such a manner that it’s nearly impossible to watch the film without having some sort of emotional investment.  I definitely need to reconsider my top 10 of 2009.

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The overall premise of (500) Days of Summer is really quite simple: Tom Hansen meets Summer Finn at work and is instantly attracted to her.  In fact, he’s more than attracted – he’s infatuated.   The movie covers Tom and Summer’s relationship – as friends, as a pseudo-couple, and as people with differing perspectives on life and love – over the next 500 days, hence the film’s double-entendre title.  But instead of focusing on unrealistic situations and a melodramatic storyline, director Marc Webb shows us the familiar subtleties of a relationship.

(500) Days of Summer is nothing like the cheesy romantic comedies that have saturated the movie theaters over the past decade or so.  There’s no desperate race to break up a girl from her douchebag fiance, there’s no forcing a couple that can’t stand each other to work together as part of a court order, and there’s no guy stuck in the friend zone trying like hell to muster the courage to tell his best friend he’s in love with her.  No, (500) Days of Summer is about a relationship that we can all relate to in one way or another, and the film understands that it’s the small moments and nuances of a relationship that are memorable and leave the most lasting impressions.  In that regard, and along with the film’s tendency to really examine the behavior, emotions, and desires of Summer and especially Tom, (500) Days of Summer is much closer to a Woody Allen movie than your traditional, vapid romantic comedy.

Despite the movie’s delving a bit deeper than most may be used to, (500) Days of Summer is wildly entertaining.  First and foremost, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt is terrific as Tom, and whether he’s walking on clouds or ready to slit his wrists, we’re convinced that his emotions are genuine.  I couldn’t help but smile when Tom danced through the park to the tune of Hall & Oates, and I felt sick to my stomach during the film’s incredible “expectations versus reality” scene.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that had so effectively captured the elation of falling in love and knowing it as well as the utter despair and self-destructive behavior that comes along with getting your heart broken.

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Zooey Deschanel is adorable as Summer and perfect for playing the type of girl who isn’t a smokeshow but who guys just seem to flock to for one reason or another.  She’s quirky, but not to the point of being annoying or, even worse, totally unbelievable like Juno.  Deschanel’s chemistry with Gordon-Levitt is remarkable, and it’s really hard to believe that the two of them were actually acting the entire film.  The way they lightly touch one another is just one of the examples of the subtlety that makes their relationship so believable.

The structure of (500) Days of Summer isn’t conventional, but it’s not as complex as say, Memento, either.  Webb shows us selected days from the 500 comprising Tom and Summer’s relationship, but they’re not shown in order.  Although this may sound like a gimmick, it’s anything but and serves well to drive the story forward.  Early on, I was worried that the movie would try and get “cute” – maybe by showing Tom with a black eye and then showing him being punched in a scene later in the movie but earlier in his relationship with Summer.  Fortunately, nothing like this ever happened, and the jumbled order of the relationship helps to reveal significant details about the relationship itself.  Whereas an interaction between Tom and Summer may initially seem sweet or cold, putting the interaction in context through later scenes makes Tom and Summer’s relationship seem that much deeper and thus believable.  For all the good things this movie does, it’s perhaps what it didn’t do – fall into the trap of “gimmicky cuteness” – that really helps flesh out Tom and Summer’s relationship without distracting the audience.

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Toward the end of the film, however, the story moves forward in a linear manner.  After following the ups and downs of Tom and Summer, I was dying to know how they turned out.  Fortunately, that’s something that isn’t revealed until the end of the movie.

I won’t say how the movie ends, but it’s certainly not a typical Hollywood ending.  Even someone as cynical as me can wholly enjoy the love story that isn’t really a love story.  I could say a lot more about this movie, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  I really can’t recommend it highly enough.





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19 responses so far

  • Joe

    Yep I agree, great movie. I watched this because of pauls list. Really glad I did that “expectations versus reality” seen was brilliant and sadly very familiar. Sniff.

  • Madison

    @ Joe

    I loved the whole movie, but I can’t stop thinking about that one scene. Absolutely heartbreaking and like you said, all too familiar.

  • Dave

    I know the movie is supposed to allow you to step into the shoes of the character but I’ve literally had the exact same thing happen to me. Right down to point where she married the next guy she dated. Go figure.

    However, in reality it took me much longer than 500 total days to come to the realization that Tom came to towards the end of the movie. Overall, fantastic flick. Can’t say enough good things about it.

  • Christian

    [Spoiler alert]
    No, you’re both wrong-it’s a well-made movie that thinks it’s too clever by half and is about unlikeable, extremely narcissistic characters.

    Why does every movie try to make Zooey D. into a super woman who can turn every head on a bus? And then when you get to know her character you find there’s really nothing likeable about her. She won’t let anyone get close to her at all, she thinks pretending Ikea is a real house is really funny, she toys with men’s emotions, is completely caged-in, emtionally, has boring taste in music, likes quirky things because they’re quirky and not because of any particular meaning, refuses to support her boyfriend (whom she utterly refuses to validate is her boyfriend) when he sticks his neck out to defending himself, and when she’s conflicted she buries it all under lies.

    She then informs her now ex-non-boyfriend that her entire story about never wanting to be with anyone was a total lie by inviting him to a party and humiliating him in front of everyone by parading her engagement ring around.

    As for the guy, it’s hard to feel too bad for him seeing as how he completely ignored a hundred blazing red flags but pushed forward with a risky relationship anyway and then was shellshocked when he got burned. Plus there’s literally not a single conversation he has with anyone in the movie that isn’t about him and his problems.

    In the end of the movie, no one’s grown at all. Zooey’s married to some other guy but is still the same ‘isn’t life magical’ twit that we grew to hate in the previous 2 hours. The 3rd Rock from the Sun guy, whatever his name is, destroys a promising career with no back-up plan and is getting turned down left and right for architect jobs because he has no schooling and doesn’t seem to realize that an ability to draw buildings isn’t the same thing as designing your own or knowing how to engineer one. Everyone lives in a pretend, pretentious world in which The Smiths was the best band ever and true love means getting everything you want and never having to make a single compromise.

  • Madison

    @ Christian

    I think we saw different movies. Tom was very likeable. And why show conversations that weren’t about Summer or his problems? It’d be unnecessary filler.

    I don’t think the movie thought it was too clever at all – that’s the impression I got from Juno, but not from this.

    I also think you’re really simplifying things – just because you found Summer boring and has a poor sense of humor doesn’t mean that others – particularly Tom – also would. And he should have given up because of the red flags? His ignoring the red flags is part of what makes this movie realistic.

  • Clare

    Seriously, this movie was like the best movie ever! At first I REALLY did not like the ending, but then I watched it again and then I saw something really subtle that Summer does. That she gives him a glimmer of hope.

    I love it so much because it is like very very realistic. I hate probably 99% of romantic comedies. This movie is not in that percentage because it goes on to do something new and not follow the same old drab formulas that most movies fall into…

  • IcemanD

    It’s interesting to see people give this movie such praise. Especially Madison who I tend to always agree with. I’m not saying I hated this movie, but I saw it with my wife and we both thought is was very OK. Certainly not bad but by no means great.

    I really think this is one of those movies that “speaks” to certain people and not others. What’s the criteria behind that? I have no idea but I’ve heard nothing but widely mixed reviews about this film.

    Funny you should mention Juno cause this movie has the same affect. Some people thought it was quirky and funny while others found it contrived and pretentious (Juno, I mean).

  • Madison

    @ IcemanD

    Maybe – and this is just a guess – a lot of people love this movie because they can relate to it. That’s what really did it for me. When Tom had spring in his step because he knew he was in love, and when he was just binging on Jack Daniels and junk food after getting dumped, I knew EXACTLY how he felt. Other movies, for whatever reason, don’t capture that effectively. Of course other movies show heartbreak and love, but I just didn’t FEEL it like I did in this one.

    So maybe you’re right, and the movie spoke to me in a way that not everyone got.

  • Drester

    What a coincidence, I saw this movie yesterday after paul recommended it. Probably the second best romantic/comedy/drama i’ve seen, right after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also really liked Zooey Deschanel, she’s a girl you could really fall in love with. Good to hear I wasn’t the only one who thought it was familiar. Love can be a Bitch

  • IcemanD

    @ Madison: I think that’s it. If you could relate to this then it really spoke to you. I did find it an emotional film but didn’t identify with male lead. I’m a betting man and like to think I recognize a bad bet when I see one. The female lead had bad bet written all over her.

    Anyway, I certainly can’t knock a movie that speaks to people (even if I wasn’t one of those people).

  • Madison

    @ IcemanD

    Fair enough, and well said.

    And in my past, I’ve ignored some red flags that would have sent other men running for the hills, and I really paid the price later on. So my ability to relate to Tom must have gone a long ways in my enjoyment of this movie.

  • Lagrange

    I liked the movie, mostly becuase of his style. It was one of the best movies this year, but on the other hand there wheren’t so many good ones, imho. The scene when he hopped into the elevator and then cut to a depressed version of him was brilliant. Anyway I have to agree with one of the comments here that Zooey’s character was not likable. It was kind of a problem for me during the movie, since I really really like Zooey. I couldn’t quite see why the main character would be that interessted in her and I also don’t quite see the chemestry between them.

    @Drester: mhm, well I realize that I never really considered Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a love story or somthing.

    Btw. in the movie I liked the cursing girl telling him not to be a pussy. It’s of course the girl from Kick-Ass ^^

    @Madion: do you know that somewhat unrelated dance clip for the movie? Youtube “(500) Days of Summer [Bank Dance]“

  • Madison

    @ Lagrange

    Aha! I couldn’t place where that girl was from – thanks!

    And thanks for the Youtube suggestion, very cool…

  • Ellie

    I loved this movie, although my parents didn’t like it, but whatever.
    I also loved the quote about the movie: “This is not a love story; it’s a story about love”.

    Also I liked this remake of a scene from “Sid and Nancy” with Zooey being Sid and Joseph being Nancy. It was pretty funny: http://content.foxsearchlight.com/inside/node/3590

  • chelsea

    i really liked this movie but i think 90% of that would be because of the wonderful use of Hall and Oates.

  • Drester

    @Lagrange

    No i can’t say it’s a love story, more Romantic drama;)

    Cool video by the way

  • http://moessexymovieblogofthunder.blogspot.com/ moe

    It is a really great film, I called it an “anti-romance” which is actually why i liked it so much.

    you can read my review here:

    http://moessexymovieblogofthunder.blogspot.com/2009/12/500-days-of-summer-summer-lovin.html

  • Steven

    @moe

    Stop spamming

  • http://forladiesbyladies.com Sammy

    I loved this movie. I loved it so much because I happened to relate to Summer’s character. I am on the complete other side of Tom. I’ve always been the girl to not want to put labels on relationships and not take things too seriously.
    Sometimes I wonder what it is that I do to make guys get the way they do. Seeing this movie, and seeing Tom’s character immediately fall into lust over Summer, I kind of see what it is.
    You treat a guy like he is the most special person in the world, and he’s going to think he’s special. That is exactly what Summer did to Tom, the way she looked at him, touched him, everything. This movie showed me that, and how torturous it really is.
    This movie was great and taught me a lot. It definitely was not a normal romantic comedy.
    I loved Summer’s character because she was so quirky. I don’t think it was over the top. It was funny that she liked Ringo the best from the Beatles and I thought it was funny how she played around like an idiot in Ikea. As I said, I can relate.
    Nice review Madison, couldn’t agree with you more.
    BTW I LOVED the dance to Hall & Oates and I blast it in my car…the song rules!

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