Everyone knows Summer. She’s a popular girl. In fact, I dated her briefly my freshman year in college. It was the first time in my short life to that point that the prettiest girl in the room ever showed any interest in me. As a consequence, I mistook lust at first sight for storybook love. Summer on the other hand had been around the romantic block a few times in a number of different carriages and she didn’t mistake the look in my eye for anything other than what it was: the warning sign of an emotional disaster waiting to happen.
She was right of course, though to this day I’m not sure whether to regret that she cut it short before we ever had sex or whether to be grateful. Considering the next bed she jumped into was that of my roommate, gratitude at the time was hard to come by. Instead I spent the next several months trying to keep my heart and guts from spilling out of the gaping hole Summer had left in my in my chest while the roommate vigorously, and no doubt ecstatically, filled the one between her legs.
The moral of this story is that sometimes we fall for the wrong people. Sometimes we think we’re “the one” but really we’re just the one between the last one and the next one. Just in case I had difficulty getting my head and heart around this particular concept, Liz…I mean Summer…and the roommate put an exclamation point on it when they married a few years later. Not that I’m still bitter or anything, but thanks for the life lesson, assholes.
Anyway, this brings me to Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the year and a half he spent pursuing Summer (Zooey Deschanel). They’re a likeable enough pair, but he is so clearly wrong for her and vice versa that it’s hard to sympathize with him as the thing. The filmmakers try to make the obvious more interesting by jumping forward and backward throughout the 500 days, but it’s just a stalling tactic while we wait for the inevitable. There are some funny bits, like Tom’s feeling of invincibility on the first morning after expressed as a Hall & Oats musical number, but they are modest, few and far between.
For a full 3/4s of its length in fact, (500) Days of Summer threatens to be a bust. Your results will vary depending on how funny and relatable you find Tom and Summer’s ups and downs, but the story threatens to paint itself into a corner. Will it conclude that love stinks with Tom ending up another bitter victim of his own blindness or will the screenwriters contrive a phony, audience-friendly happy ending where Tom and Summer live happily ever after?
Surprisingly, the filmmakers navigate a treacherous middle ground and the movie is rescued in the last couple of scenes. Just when you think it’s all going to go down the toilet, the movie rallies and largely justifies itself. Without spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that it feels right and truthful. Tom’s journey is a slap in the face to the lies popular culture tells us about true love and the film works as either a salve for past romantic disasters or a kind of goofy guidebook for handling them in the future.
There has been an irritating niche in cinematic romances at least since the nearly unbearable Garden State where two quirky alternative types find their romantic way using a catchy, indie-pop soundtrack (available in the lobby on CD or downloadable from iTunes) as their guide. (500) Days of Summer threatens to be that movie, but in the end it’s a rejection of the idea that two people are made for each other if only one of them would listen to the music and open their eyes. This is a film that wisely understands that life and love do not always work like they do in books and movies and greeting cards. (500) Days of Summer reminds us that sometimes “the one” ends up with “the roommate” and we’re left to grow up and move on…and probably make even bigger romantic mistakes down the road.
(500) Days of Summer. USA 2009. Directed by Marc Webb. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Cinematography by Eric Steelberg. Music score composed by Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen. Edited by Alan Edward Bell. Starring Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Rachel Boston and Minka Kelly. 1 hour 35 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for sexual material and language. 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Filed under: Review
Tags: 500 Days of Summer, Alan Edward Bell, Chloe Moretz, Clark Gregg, Eric Steelberg, Geoffrey Arend, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marc Webb, Matthew Gray Gubler, Michael H. Weber, Minka Kelly, Mychael Danna, Rachel Boston, Rob Simonsen, Scott Neustadter, Zooey Deschanel