(500) Days of Summer
Dir. Marc Webb
Rating: 4.0/ 5.0
Fox Searchlight Pictures
The delightful, heartwarming and heartbreaking (500) Days of Summer is definitely a product of a post-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind world, but it is steeped with enough originality and vigor that it’s much more than a lighthearted clone. (500) Days mixes realism with intriguing, fantastic elements but it’s the nuanced and authentic performances of leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that create the next great “fantasy” love story, much like Sunshine’s Joel and Clementine.
(500) Days of Summer has a fairly simple premise: heartbroken Tom (the wonderful Gordon-Levitt) has recently lost Summer (Deschanel), the so-called love his life. Distraught, Tom mopes about, reflecting on the times they had together, wondering where it all went wrong while friends and family attempt to console him. The film manage to be entertaining as well as accessible, partly due to the insertion of fantasy elements from Tom’s mind, which place the audience in his frame of mind, and offer a different perspective on a common situation..
While threatening to break down the fourth wall, director Marc Webb does not use it as a crutch or dogmatically, and thus manages to maintain an influence without being a blatant recycling. There is a fantastic dance sequence that even involves an animated bluebird, and it works because we feel Tom’s joviality at finally having been with Summer, and we are all reminded of just how alive we felt when we were with someone we truly cared about for the first time. This grandstand is mitigated by a “real-life” shot of Tom jovially skipping along listening to his music. There is also a stylistically apt moment with the split screen technique when Tom gets invited to a party Summer is throwing, and we watch as Expectations and Reality play out to a very different avail. This scene in particular might be the most innovative attempt in the film, and it truly rises above even the pitfalls that romantic comedies can sometime fall into.
The film really only goes off track when it tries too hard to be “quirky;” although the Juno inspired intertitles are fun and necessary to advance the conceit of the plot, at some points they appear far too often, instead of letting the story progress naturally. The title cards are used to some great effect in the latter half of the film, however, but former video director Webb inserts too many one-off visual tricks that don’t pay off, such as the Annie Hall homage where Tom and his best friends are interviewed via black-and-white camera about what love means to them. Their dialogue is sharp and clever, but it comes across as an intrusive moment that removes the characters from the main narrative. Also at some points in the film a voiceover is heard, however this device is used so infrequently that it hurts the film more.
When Summer decides to call off their “relationship,” Tom retreats into his headphones, alcohol, and despair, and Gordon-Levitt’s subtlety as he passes from tender to broken makes Tom a likable and identifiable person. In the hands of a lesser actor, the character might become unbearable, but the skilled Gordon-Levitt comes off as genuine. Deschanel also delivers a wonderfully understated performance, and the scenes of intimacy between Summer and Tom simmer to almost a boil; their romantic tension is believable and genuine. Deschanel plays the character as deceptively naïve, down to her flirtation with Tom after his drunken friend tells her he likes her as he is being shoved into a cab. She hides a spark of knowledge and bitterness behind her wonderful blue eyes, however, and you can almost hear her thinking, “Don’t fall in love with me” as she and Tom get closer and closer, but to no avail; the excitement of their relationship is watching Tom resist the inevitable, and watching Summer have to deal with possible feelings she intended not to reciprocate.
Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel manage to create a modern romantic couple that feels real, despite their doomed relationship: it is evident they care for one another, and have changed each other’s lives for the better. (500) Days of Summer is a perfect date movie, or even just for a fun night out with a friend, and definitely is light and breezy enough to be enjoyed on a summer day if you want an alternative from robots punching robots or wizards wizarding. However, don’t be swayed by Tom; as he learns in the movie, not every coincidence has meaning- some of them are just coincidences. Enjoying this movie will not be one of them: it is a genuine delight.
by Rafael Gaitan