Movies, as a rule, are not particularly
introspective about the building
blocks of romantic relationships.
And if that’s true of movies as a rule, when
it comes to romantic comedies, that rule
has pretty much been carved into stone by
lightning and carried down a mountain by
a guy with a long white beard.
(500) Days of Summer is the kind of
independent comedy that, at first glance,
might seem like it’s going to be insufferable.
Director Marc Webb—a music-video
guy better known for working with 3 Doors
Down than with a feature-film script—trots
out more than a few visual quirks. The very
premise—following the arc of a relationship
out of chronological order—seems fraught
with gimmicky dangers. But, no matter how
goofy the film gets at individual moments,
it becomes fairly irresistible for one simple
reason: When it comes to understanding
heartbreak and the role of different loves in
our lives, this film is almost painfully wise.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom, a
romantic soul working at writing platitudes
for a Los Angeles greeting-card company,
despite education as an architect that he’s
putting to no use. Into his life steps his boss’
new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel),
inspiring an instant infatuation. She’s cute!
She digs The Smiths! She’s the kind of girl
with whom you can make a delightful day just
strolling through an IKEA store. And so what
if she claims she doesn’t believe in love?
The opening narration makes it clear
that our two lovebirds will not have a happily-
ever-after; the on-screen counter flips
to the day of Tom and Summer’s breakup
before we even have time to think of them
as a couple. And while swinging back and
forth in time between their happy couplehood
and Tom’s despair might have come off
as an unnecessary contrivance, breaking
the story into discrete pieces allows Webb
and screenwriters Scott Neustadter
and Michael H. Weber to build a thematic
framework: the notion that most
people retrospectively think of their
relationships in those bits and pieces,
rather than for the larger story they tell.
And, many of those bits and pieces are
simply glorious. One hilarious montage
finds a blissed-out Tom flitting around the
office, solving every creative block with a
pithy heartfelt sentiment; another sequence
turns the morning after Tom and Summer’s
first sexual encounter into a fully choreographed
production number set to Hall &
Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” complete
with animated birds and a marching band.
And, if you’re not won over at the outset by
the brilliantly bitter opening “disclaimer,”
you’re a hard audience to please.
But, as charming as (500) Days of Summer
may be when it’s funny, it’s even better
when it’s poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
continues to prove himself as a young actor
with an impressive range, and he’s wonderful
as a guy immersed in every emotional
moment. Deschanel might actually have
an even-tougher challenge, as she has to
sell Summer’s commitment issues as genuine
without turning her into an ice queen.
Together, they find a perfect pitch for two
achingly wonderful late scenes: the wedding
of a mutual friend at which they reconnect
after their breakup and a party that splits
the screen between an outcome Tom hopes
for and what actually transpires.
It’s in these moments—and in several that
surround it, as Tom tries to make sense of
what went wrong with Summer—that (500)
Days of Summer turns damnednear profound.
Most romantic comedies deal with the wacky
complications of winding up with The One;
this one takes on the tougher task of understanding
The One That Got Away. There’s a
relationship that teaches you what you have
to know before The One ever has a chance of
being The One, and that’s what the filmmakers
here understand: Lasting romantic happiness
probably never comes without first
surviving a few deep battle scars.
It’s a bit of a shame that Webb and company at times overplay their quirky hand. They give Tom a wise-beyond-heryears pre-teen sister (Chloe Moretz) as his guru and confidant, complete with utterly implausible dialogue. Indeed, most of the supporting characters are exactly the kind of types—the jerky best friend (Geoffrey Arend), the vaguely oblivious boss (Clark Gregg)—that you’d find in a much-lazier romantic comedy. (500) Days of Summer manages to be both uproarious and wistful by doing what those other romantic comedies so rarely do: telling the truth.
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel,