(500) Days of Summer is not the movie to take someone to if you have just started dating them. This is not, as the voice over claims in the first few minutes of the film, a romantic comedy, i.e. a film in which the couple ends up happily ever after. It’s fun, funny, in fact it’s a pure joy to watch. It so eloquently captures the ups and downs of a relationship that isn’t meant to be that it draws out of you every doubt in your mind that you could possibly have with the person sitting next to you. And gives you hope in the potential…for the next one…alas not the one you’re with. Ouch.
Now, if you’re pretty confident in your relationship, or have just gotten out of one, you should then, without a doubt, see this film.
Tom Hansen, as captured perfectly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is one of those young types who has dreams and goals, passions…a gift you could say, and who has been sitting on those gifts, selling his soul as a slogan writer for greeting cards. He’s one push away from losing it completely. That push comes from Summer Finn, Zooey Deschanel who reminds every guy of that girl who got away. Or in this case, the girl you never completely had.
The problem being he believes in true love, she doesn’t believe in true love. Over the course of the next two hours you see these two characters come at each other like the wrong sides of magnets. Tom doesn’t see that it’s wrong. Summer does, but it’s hard to tell if she cares. And so begins an anti-romantic comedy that only could take place in Los Angeles, because this sort of relationship begins and ends every day in LA, where they are as much a trifle as a flashy object to someone with ADD.
All hail the writers Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, who both worked on The Pink Panther 2 (really? But who are writing three more movies together…fingers crossed), for breathing a profound amount of life into a genre that has been chasing it’s own tail for a decade. Their characters speak the speak of Los Angeles. They talk and interact like real people, inhabiting real spaces, feeling real emotions – really affecting each other. There’s very little that’s false here. The lines of dialogue that sting the most are the ones you know someone in the creative process has heard, including first time feature director Mark Webb. They sting as an audience member to hear, because the characters don’t hide behind sound bites or lessons learned speeches. These characters actually say things to each other. Woah!
There are filmic devices-as-scenes so wonderfully used (hopping back and forth in time, split screen, musical numbers) they evoke the most real and authentic reactions, and put you right in the shoes of how Tom is feeling. This is the highest compliment a movie can be given as far as I’m concerned. Summer stirs up genuine emotions, and makes you question, regard and wonder. The film itself is not without hope. Hope for running into something better…eventually. Whereas the film elicits genuine emotions, the love Tom feels for Summer, may not be. He’s reaching blindly to rediscover what makes him happy. And the only way to be built up, is to first be torn down…and you see him torn down to the final brick.
For a movie that comes so close to perfection, it’s sad to say it has it’s flaws. The overused too smart for her own good younger sibling, in this case a sibling half Tom’s age, seems to know far more about the world than a 50-year-old psychiatrist might. Too indie-film cute for my delicate palette. Especially when the rest of the film is smarter than this.
But the director makes up for it by referencing films the general public may not care to get; from a dream sequence in which Tom is playing a game of chess on a beach against Cupid recalls Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, to shooting in the same building Roy Batty once came home to to find his Replicant lover killed at the hands of Rick Deckard in Bladerunner. (Yes, I recognized the elevator and layout of the building…same angle in fact! Just not as much standing water being used.)
The filmmakers thankfully expand beyond the reach of Tom and Summer allowing glimpses into the lives of Tom’s friends to show us that while the perfect idea of a relationship or a significant other may not exist, love can, but if you’re not open to it when it comes along, you’ll never know. I can give Summer credit for at least giving it a go, and being honest. With honesty comes a bite in the ass, as someone said to me recently. How true.