Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Dechanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz.
Running Time: 95 minutes
Another excellent review from Sarah Louise Dean
I watch a lot of films, and I like to think that I know a thing or two about romantic comedies. Quite a few modern rom-coms are terrible. But just sometimes you watch a film at exactly the right point in your life where it resonates the most, and it knocks your socks off. I felt the prickly feeling of recognition whilst watching the divine (500) Days of Summer. It’s a whimsical independent film which tells the story of how Tom (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt), a young and preppy greetings card writer working in LA falls perilously in love with bohemian renegade Summer (Zooey Dechanel), a personal assistant who comes to work at his company. The film carefully charts the course of their burgeoning and then flailing relationship over the titular 500 days.
Nowadays film producers like to veer sideways when serving up a rom-com plot. They know that we’ve already seen the good movies, the ones that appeal to all. The ones that cleverly place a non-judgmental mirror up and reflect the messy business of relationships. We don’t know what will be thrown at us, or to be patronised. Many directors seem to think that we don’t want a happy ending anymore, but I’d say we need one more than ever. Perhaps today, however, we’re savvy enough to demand a believable ending. The tagline of this film is a clever clue as to where it’s going: ‘Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t’. The story is told from Tom’s point of view and sweeps back and forth to let the viewer see Tom’s mental state during the falling in and the inevitable falling out of love with Summer. The toing and froing is not a hardship on the viewer, but a clever comparison slowly unfolding the details of Tom’s affliction.
Going back to the traditional romantic comedy definition, it fits the latter part of the description probably more than the former, as the opening gambit and the denouement are both very funny, but the act of falling in love doesn’t last nearly long enough for my liking. Although the premise is unique, there are some familiar showpieces here, contrasting the character’s childhoods and standard conceptions of love, although it’s a nice to see the gender swap on who possesses those ideas. There is some borrowing from Woody Allen with split-screen quirks and pieces to camera, but they’re used because they work. Like when Tom is invited to Summer’s party, we get to see his ideal party scenario set against what really happens, and the execution is achingly bittersweet.
Summer, is incredibly pretty in an equally preppy manner, imbued with a breezy manner to illustrate how unaffected she is by all the male attention that she is paid. But frankly I found her to be emotionless and sometimes bordering on nasty. I wonder if this was because the script was written by writers burned by their own personal Summers? Zooey plays Summer in her usual manner, with a monotone delivery but a wealth of emotion going on behind her big eyes, but as Summer is supposed to be someone who keeps careful control over all emotion, she is well cast.
The supporting characters fulfil their function but are never at the centre of the action. Tom’s two best friends McKenzie and Paul, played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler were both interesting and should really have played a bigger part. And Summer does not have any female friends at all. Had she had some, this may have softened the image of her presented to the viewer. There is also a quirky role-reversal relationship between Tom and his much younger counselling sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz).
It’s not just the nuanced plot; it’s also the peripheral touches that make this film so sweet. We get to see another side of Los Angeles where people have comparatively normal jobs and aren’t all scarily beautiful actors. And of course the soundtrack is an Indie lover’s wet dream, personified by Tom’s brilliant drunken karaoke version of The Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man. I also adore the film for its gorgeous pastel colour palette, which plays wells with the light and young tone of the film. The characters apartments are immaculate but not huge. And this really is Gordon-Levitt’s film. He is a highly capable leading man, who fully inhabits Tom’s boyish obsession with the right amount of candour and warmth.
There are some plot contrivances, such as a messy subplot involving Tom not enjoying his job and wanting to become an architect. Summer speaks for the whole audience when she asks Tom why he hasn’t done anything about it?
But the highlight is the way that 500 Days deals with modern relationships. There is no sugar coating to Tom’s heartache. When Summer refuses to take his hand or look him in the eye. you feel every tiny blow. We’ve all been in those awkward situations, and here they are played out with cool efficiency.
Some of the plot is contrived, it’s a little bit too hip and the characterisation could be more multidimensional. In summary, 500 Days of Summer is romantic, it made me laugh and is appealing to men and women alike. What’s not to love?