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500 Days of Summer

August 12, 2009

(500) Days of Summer isn’t just a romance story, nor is it just a comedy, nor a tragedy. It’s a look at humans in love or lack thereof. For every hopeless romantic who has been burned, or anyone who knows the joy and pain that a relationship can bring, or anybody who knows what it’s like to love and desire what you can’t have, then this movie is for all of us. (500) Days of Summer starts with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hopeless romantic who writes those witty little sayings on the insides of cards for a living. Like many in the world, Tom’s interpretation of what love is has been developed by pop songs and misinterpretations of movies. Through these examples he believes that fate brings along that special someone and when you met them you just know they are “the one.” In walks the company’s new assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a beautiful independent, enigmatic, cynic who doesn’t believe in fate or love but instead sees love as a made-up word that no one is capable of truly feeling; thus beginning a struggling relationship for the next 500 days or roughly 16 months for those too lazy to do the math.

The film takes us back and forth through various days of Summer and Tom’s relationship from their first kiss, to their first date, to their first night together and so on. However there is one tiny hiccup that complicates things, Summer’s declaration from the start that she just wants to be friends, a sentiment that Tom can’t seem to grasp thus leading to days and months of misunderstanding and ultimately heartbreak. (500) Days immediately sets itself apart from the mainstream Hollywood romances churned out every year such as this summer’s The Proposal and The Ugly Truth and yet it also sets itself apart from its independent contemporaries. (500) Days is endearing because it’s not a good film just because of its quirkiness like Juno or its timelessness like The Notebook but instead it unfolds as a fairly accurate rendition of the trials of being in a relationship.

There’s the beautiful fantastic side when anything is possible as seen on day 38 (don’t quote me on these days) during an impromptu musical number to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” after Tom’s coition with Summer, complete with choreographed dancing and animated birds. Then there are the hard rough patches when day 232 is just one of those days when nothing you do is right for your lover including getting your ass kicked for them. And then there are the daily awkward moments which director Marc Webb, although a n00b to feature length filmmaking, beautifully shows in abundance by placing the viewer in Summer and Tom’s moments of misinterpretation, failed jokes, and simple speechlessness through extreme tight close-ups and shaky camera movements making the moments just as personal and sometimes extremely uncomfortable for the viewers as it is for the characters.

(500) Days reminds us that love isn’t just the heart-shaped boxes delivered instead love is plagued with days when you smash dishes out frustration, when a bottle of Jack, a shot of orange juice, and a crap load of twinkies are the only things that can get you through the day, when everything you once loved about a person from their smile to their voice, becomes irritating imperfections that you want burned from your memory. Reminding me of a lesson I learned at 9, that love can make you insane. (500) Days has its flaws however although they are few and far between. Its ending is clichéd and a bit typical and the non-linear narrative and story has been done before most notably by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Furthermore as with every quirky independent film there are the typically placed yet amiable scenes with detailed discussions on pop culture such as the theme song from “Knight Rider” or Summer’s love for Beatle Ringo Starr, to the bewilderment of Tom..who can suck it by the way because Ringo is definitely the 2nd best Beatle next to Lennon. Not musically of course but overall– but that’s an argument for another day.

Yet (500) Days is appealing because of the story being told and the wonderful performances from the always eccentric but perfectly cast Zooey Deschanel and the down on his luck charming everyman that only Joseph Gordon-Levitt can deliver so well. Even supporting characters McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), Tom’s best friends and his sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) help the story flow together smoothly with plenty of laughs even during Tom’s most painful and embarrassing moments. Some may find the motif of jumping days to be a pretentious plot gimmick however it’s the non-linear narrative that leaves the most poignant reflection on the couple’s relationship. As memories of day 113 and 343 happen side-by-side, it emulates the reality of the day to day battles that relationships can bring as one day there’s sunshine and rainbows and the next day it’s worse than watching a Uwe Boll film. Although a simple story of love lost with a nice uplifting ending, (500) Days makes us see that sometimes we fall in love with the idea of being in love to the point that we choose to ignore the warning signs when the relationship has become something of Sid and Nancy or Ike and Tina.


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