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.
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.
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.
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.