(500) Days of Summer is a rare type of romantic comedy – rather, love story – in that it lacks the schmaltzy, overwrought elements which plague those types of movies. It deals with the same issues – love, attachment, loss of someone important, temptation – but it manages to mould them into a new, genuine form as opposed to just a rehashing of movies past. And with two lead actors so likable, it pretty much rounds off as a fine, fine example of this type of movie.
The film follows Tom Hansen, a young man who's fallen in love with a young woman who doesn't believe in love. Starting towards the end of the titular 500 days, the film jumps back and forth between certain points in that amount of days as their relationship is looked back on.
What (500) Days of Summer importantly is aware that there are more complex nuances and details about the nature of dating, and relationships than what a narrative feature film could possibly ever completely explain or showcase. It's in this way that the film always treats its audience with respect and intellectual equality. Most romantic comedies, or "love stories," look down on the audience, simplifying every aspect of the ups and downs of the usual generic relationship, painting everything as black and white. (500) Days of Summer realises there are always shades of grey involved, if not that grey often covers the entire canvas.
The film is a collection of relationship complexities (both of dating and friendship) wrapped up in a blanket of accessibility. If one were to lay out some of the stuff the film deals with on paper, it would seem like the movie is less than fun to sit through. But that couldn't be further from the truth. This is, despite its complexity, a wholly fun and enjoyable movie that's breezy in nature and delightfully charming, but at the same time not forcefully so. With its playful visual stylizations (a creative use of split-screen put a big smile on my face), a consistent presence/use of the colour blue (which, as noted by the director in an interview, is used to highlight Zooey Deschanel's eyes) and light and airy pace, it accomplishes "charming" with ease. But unlike something like Juno, which was charming but also somewhat artificially so (that movie wins you over by sheer force of will, however), (500) Days is genuinely cute and charming. It doesn't try to be that but rather just is. And that's a hard thing to accomplish with a movie.
Leading the film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an extremely underrated actor who only now looks to be getting his due. With his role in the excellent indie-cult picture, Brick, a few years ago, I was completely convinced of his ability to pull off a diverse role. He's a refreshing face to be seen in this type of a movie; good looking, yes, but not really obviously so. This isn't Matthew McConaughey in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Levitt is an ordinary guy here – relatable to most males out there who'll seek this movie out – who just happens to fall in love with someone incompatible, even if he'd like her to be suited to him (at times even thinking she is).
Playing the "Her" in this "Him and Her" story is the ever lovely Zooey Deschanel, perfectly cast (alluring, charming, attention-grabbing….) as the quietly confident and very casual Summer. To an infatuated Tom she's the perfect girl for him, but she doesn't see things that way. Pretty opposite to most romantic comedies, it's the girl who doesn't want anything serious, who just wants to keep things casual. She doesn't even consider them a couple (this is highlighted in an emotional scene where Tom confronts her about it), and needless to say is a lot less committed to what they have going than he is.
Like almost all quirky and charming indie flicks, (500) Days boasts a varied and elected collection of songs as its soundtrack. From the upbeat-yet-sombre sound of The Smiths (which is verbally noted as one of the thing's "the guy and the girl" have in common as liking) to the bouncy, energetic sound of "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oates (which features in an imagined dance sequence in the middle of the film – a delightful highlight), it should serve well as a separate soundtrack to listen to out with the film itself. Shouldn't all good soundtracks?
This is the feature film debut of music video director Marc Webb, and if this is anything to go by he has a great career ahead of him. The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is refreshing, charming and original with a sense that it, while hopeful and uplifting at points, is entirely grounded in life's inconsistencies, confusion and, sometimes, misery when it comes to relationships.
As a deep voice-over (by Richard McGonagle – which only sporadically appears) tells us right away – "This a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story." – and it goes on to prove that for the next 90-plus minutes. It's not a love story, at least not entirely. This is a variation on a love story where only one half is up for going all the way, while the other wants to stay in limbo. Even if we know where the story is heading having seen near the end of the titular 500 days at the start, it's not the destination that's the point, it's the journey that gets us there.Powered by Sidelines