Film Review: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Scott Newstadter and Michael H. Weber
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 5 (five out of five)500_days

I don’t like chick flicks.  Well, I usually don’t.  I will admit to liking one or two, here or there.  When Harry Met Sally comes to mind.  I’ve always found it annoying when a movie navigates it’s plot points with predictable ennui.  I understand why so many people find them appealing – the fairy-tale essence and the good, happy, romantic ending – and I appreciate that.  I just don’t like it myself.  My collection of movies is decidedly darker, and I don’t think that’s just because of my personality.  I’ve always looked towards art to reflect back to me what I see every day, and the art that does that I find attractive.

So I liked 500 Days of Summer (which is to be referred to without the e.e. cummings-like punctuation for the rest of this review).  It was different, and more a reflection of reality than most love stories these days.

The film is told in a series non-sequential flashbacks, going backwards and forwards through the character’s relationship.  Non-linear story telling is nothing new, but I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it applied to a love story – except, as the Narrator tells us, “This isn’t a love story.  It’s a story about love.”

Levitt plays Tom Hansen, someone who has almost been an observer to his own life.  He went to school to become an architect, but spends his days writing the insides of greeting cards.  Enter Summer (Deschanel), who has just moved to L.A. from Michigan and has landed herself a job as Tom’s boss’s assistant.  Tom is instantly in love.

He truly believes that Summer is The One, The Only One, from the very beginning.  After a few days and some helpful prodding from his friends, Summer and Tom end up together.  From the very start, Summer is very plain and disarmingly honest about what she wants – in her first real conversation with Tom, she tells him she doesn’t want a relationship.  Shortly afterward, she makes sure Tom understands that all she wants is to be friends.  Tom hears what he wants.  He hears “take it slow” and “see where it goes.”

Tom has long believed in fairy tales and he doesn’t see what’s in front of him.  He sees what the fairy tales have led him to believe and he thinks that Summer shares this.  But as the Narrator told us at the very beginning, “This isn’t a love story.  It’s a story about love.”

Deschanel is just perfect as Tom’s tantalizing object of obsession.  She sees Tom for exactly who he is and likes him for exactly that.  She’s smart, funny, beautiful, playful, and it’s Tom’s bad luck that he can’t help but fall in love with her.

Summer is a bit mysterious in this movie.  We’ve all been so trained by Hollywood’s clichéd romance movies that we expect she’ll change and see that Tom is It.  When she doesn’t, she becomes mysterious.  The film almost instantly leaves the love story arc and heads into unexplored waters.  We only see her through Tom’s eyes, and what he doesn’t understand, we don’t either.

The director borrows from other pieces of art to help display Tom’s feelings.  Glimpses of Fellini, Disney, and French post-modernism explain what’s going on inside without being literal about it.  There’s even a nod to When Harry Met Sally.

When you look back on a years worth of related events, especially that of a relationship, you tend not to see it exactly as it happened.  You see it in glimpses that aren’t chronological; you see references from movies, books, and TV; you see things not quite as they were, but as a heightened experience of what happened.  In other words, it plays out like 500 Days of Summer.

Which is why it’s a great film.

(As a side note, a few of my friends complained about the ending.  While I can understand their complaint with the very last scene, I completely disagree and thing that there was no more apropos an ending for this film than what was presented.  Even the name of the girl applied.)


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7 Responses

  1. Erin January 4, 2010 / 9:53 am

    You’re good at this. I just wish there weren’t so many typos 🙂

  2. Elizabeth January 4, 2010 / 10:13 am

    Why did you mention the girl’s name? NOT NECESSARY. I loved your review until you beat me over the head with the symbolism at the end 😉

    P.S. Did you recognize her as Lila Gaherty (no idea how you spell it) on Friday Night Lights?

  3. Nathan January 4, 2010 / 10:45 pm

    @Erin: I fixed the typos, and I’ll add “Not use so many annoying and grammatically incorrect hypens in my writing.”

    @Elizabeth: I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights” (either the movie or the show). I’m curious, what symbolism did I hit you over the head with? Just “her name?”

  4. Elizabeth January 5, 2010 / 7:38 am

    yup! The ending of the film (so hard not to say movie) was enough of a reference to that final scene without throwing in the bit about her name applying. If her name wasn’t so obvious, maybe. It was hit-you-over-the-head though… I wouldn’t want anyone watching the movie waiting for some super witty name when it was pretty plain.

  5. carlyle January 10, 2010 / 2:30 am

    hey you forgot garden state in the chick flick section greatest chick flick ever

  6. Nathan January 10, 2010 / 8:43 pm

    I’ve never really thought of Garden State as a chick flick. It’s so far out from that genre that it’s never even crossed my mind as being a part of it.

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