(500) Days of Summer – Review

500_Days

Director: Marc Webb
Notable Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

There’s a moment in (500) Days of Summer where our protagonist, Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hopeful (less?) romantic and greeting card writer, blames the movies and the pop songs for the misconception of love. I’d agree with his feelings about the movies – a good romantic comedy is a rare accomplishment these days – but music is different. Without pop music, especially in relation to movies, John Cusack standing below Ione Skye’s window in Say Anything, his arms extending a boombox stereo, would be for naught. You need Peter Gabriel’s blaring vocals as he sings “In Your Eyes.” And say what you will about the artistic merit of ‘80s pop, you can’t dismiss the sincerity of a guy saying that he’d stop the world and melt with you, can you?

These feelings Tom has are at the expense of his latest romantic interest, Summer Bishl (Zooey Deschanel). Summer is the boss’ new assistant, and Tom is smitten at first glance. This is nothing new to Summer as she’s used to guys glancing at her; she’s unique in fashion and her big blue eyes aim to hypnotize.

Now Tom’s ideas about love intertwine with fate. He is of the belief that there is such a thing as “The One,” but his parents’ divorce would make us think that perfect matches aren’t so perfect at all. The pairing of love and fate also extends beyond relationships. Tom’s his first love was architecture, but he writes greeting cards for a living. He even muses sarcastically, why have a disposable building when a greeting card can stand the test to time?

At the film’s onset, we are told by an omniscient narrator that what we are watching is not a love story. This is simply a story about love. The narrator makes no assurances of a happily ever after, but expectations of past romantic comedies would make us think otherwise.

For days Tom word stumbles in trying to tell Summer he likes her. The first kiss follows and then comes the eventual night of lovemaking. But the next level in their relationship festers. Summer prefers to keep things casual, while Tom would like it to be serious – with a clearly defined label (boyfriend and girlfriend). To which Summer disagrees. And so begins Tom’s dilemma. The love he harbors for Summer is a love that is unrequited.

(500) Days of Summer feels almost too good to be true. It’s a serio-romantic comedy, not just a romantic comedy. There is a difference. Forget the clichéd story arcs and sitcom-laugh contrivances. Marc Webb builds on his resume as a music-video director and incorporates different techniques (split-screen, animation) in making a successful debut as a filmmaker. Though he shares the credit, and deservedly so, with his two stars and a smart screenplay, which doesn’t force the comedy but has it grow naturally from the characters.

Breaking from tradition, the film, which covers the 500 days of the relationship (hence the title), doesn’t go from points A to Z. It is told in a non-linear manner, jumping to different highs and lows in the relationship. We are aware of the day in the relationship thanks to color-coded placards like “Day (290).”

A change in perspective also skewers what is expected in a romantic comedy. It’s a rarity to see a relationship comedy told from the male point of view. That’s all Summer is. There’s no attempt at objectivity: the entire story is told from Tom’s perspective. Summer is seen as a vision of splendor and detested; it all depends on how Tom feels at that moment.

Webb’s career as a music-video director allows for off-kilter touches not normally associated with these types of movies. The abovementioned technique of split-screen juxtaposes “expectations vs. reality,” our eyes moving left to right, observing each change as if it were a tennis match. Webb also includes a quick fantasy sequence involving the French New Wave cinematic movement and it fits perfectly within the context of the story.

During the South by Southwest festival in Austin this year, I got to meet Webb, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel. As someone who has been a fan of Gordon-Levitt’s more adult fare (Mysterious Skin, The Lookout) – not to take anything away from TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun – I made the comment that this was the first romantic comedy in a decade. The previous being 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. He was a little taken aback saying “yeah” and “you’re right.” And in both films Gordon-Levitt had his sights on a particular female, only this time he doesn’t design some elaborate ruse to get Summer’s attention. Thank goodness.

The role Zooey Deschanel inhabits isn’t much of a stretch, as this is her third straight romantic comedy (after last year’s Yes Man and Gigantic). As the object of someone’s affection, we only get as small sense of the real Summer, because the vision presented is what Tom perceives. She has a hipster look and the close-ups of her face (too many to remember) highlight her eyes. Well, they say eyes are the windows to the soul. Maybe Tom was so enamored by the blue hues that he just had a feeling it must be fate they were meant to be together.

Feeling like classic Woody Allen, (500) Days of Summer moves well beyond the point of the conventional romantic comedy and frees itself from clichés. It is honest and quirky, fun and bittersweet. We feel an attachment for these characters, not because of their looks or star presence but because of their likeability. Marc Webb proves it is possible to present romance from the male perspective and not have it just be about sex. This is truly a romantic comedy for guys that don’t like romantic comedies.

FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):



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