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(500) Days of Summer (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 14

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly, Ian Reed Kesler, Darryl Alan Reed, Valente Rodriguez, Yvette Nicole Brown, Nicole Vicius, Natalie Boren, Maile Flanagan, Darryl Sivad and Gregory A. Thompson.

Screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Directed by Marc Webb.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  95 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

It may be adding too much gravitas to this charming little romantic comedy about a hopeless romantic and the woman who breaks his heart to call it a Generation Y version of Annie Hall, but in some weird ways the comparison fits.

Just like that classic film, (500) Days of Summer is a look at the short life of a mismatched couple – flitting back and forth in time from the first blush of possibility to the first hints of trouble to inevitable fracture.  Just like Annie Hall, the audience is alerted in the opening monologue that there will be no Hollywood “happy ending” for this couple.  The woman even sings a lovely song which moves the relationship to a new level – here a way-cool karaoke cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” by Zooey Deschanel.  The film is often surprisingly funny, poignantly observant and strangely inevitable.  And yet the movie is in no way predictable.  It has quirky touches like French new wave fantasy scenes, Broadway dance numbers and a surprising difference of reactions to the climax of The Graduate.

Yet, though it does have a somewhat similar structure and theme, (500 Days) of Summer is very much its own quirky and unique self, taking the hackneyed conventions of romantic comedy and totally subverting them – at the same time that it is somewhat embarrassedly embracing them.  “This is not a love story,” the stern-sounding narrator tells us early on, though of course it is.  It’s just a love story that did not work quite the way one of the participants had hoped.

Which, frankly, is what a love story looks like in real life.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom, a 20-something greeting card copywriter and aspiring architect who is in a perfect place in his life except for one thing.  He is waiting to find “the one,” his soul mate.  He is shy and romantic and he believes that that is all he needs in life.

Soon at work he meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) a beautiful, sweet, quirky woman who moved to Los Angeles from the midwest to find adventure.  She has had attention from men all of her life and she is more outgoing, but also more independent.  She does not believe in true love.

Therefore we have a bit of a opposite-day look at Hollywood courtship.  She is the more worldly, aggressive and commitment-phobic one.  He is the romantic one looking for the happy ending.  He believes in marriage.  She believes in self-sufficiency.

The audience eavesdrops as their relationship goes from freshness and adventure to anger and recrimination.  Because the timeline bops back and forth from happy to sad, we see certain scenes replayed in different contexts, often changing their meaning and significance.

Gordon-Levitt – years away from being the goofy kid in the 90s sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun – has become a respected indie actor in the likes of Brick and Stop-Loss, however this is his real breakthrough.  He effortlessly takes Tom from goofily in love to broken and embittered – his boss at the greeting card company gives him a pep talk after he turns in a Valentine card which reads “Roses are red, violets are blue, fuck you, bitch!”  If this role does not make him an in-demand leading man, then something is wrong.

Deschanel has played this kind of nerd’s fantasy of quirky beauty before – a girl who likes to drink, listens to the Smiths, enjoys sex and is willing to be the aggressor.  In fact, she does it better than anyone – and the role of Summer is her meatiest role yet.

Sometimes two people can be perfect, but not for each other.  No one is to blame.

Watching them, we know they are not destined to be together – as they would in a more unadventurous romance.  And you know what, we even understand why they probably never work together.  They are just in different places.  Also, as much as they may care for each other, they don’t really understand each other.

Their final meeting – while she is trying to find closure between the two of them – is cruel in ways that she apparently just doesn’t even notice or comprehend.

They never were a good fit – that’s sort of the point.

There isn’t always a happy ending in love.  The nice thing is though, despite the fact that Tom and Summer were not soul mates as he had hoped, the movie closes with the promise of both finding true happiness.  Just not together.

You know what?  They both deserve it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2009.

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