Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

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)

8 Responses to “Review: 500 Days of Summer (2009) *** 1/2”

  1. “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?”

    Indeed! i couldn’t agree more with all that. One of your best reviews of recent months!

    As I said on The Watercooler thread I found the film often exhausting and cloying, and some secnes like that musical number in th epark with the animated bird and some other stylistic flourishes just didn’t work. The calandar roll-out and the clunky voice-over narration were a major annoyance.

    But there were some frank and truthful observations, the two leads were excellent, and the final scene was endearing.

  2. Oh…

    So THAT’S why you seemed so cranky when you were talking about this in the Watercooler thread.

    My darling boy, you mustn’t be prejudiced against the glamorous. People all ready have far too many preconceptions about us (varies from person to person…but a lot of them are undeniably wrong) that make our respective lives bloody difficult.

    We’ve known each too long for you to hold my physical appearance against me. Let’s hope that it stays that way.

    I hate to tell you this. But Liz did you a favour.

    Be thankful every damn day that she let you go. I don’t know her. But she was either a selfish, spoiled, insensitive brat who deserved someone capable of equally egregious behaviour OR she understood that things weren’t going to work out and went for someone that she felt she had more compatibility with.

    The fact that the dude was your roomate is harsh. But maybe (to her mind) there was no other way around it.

    Great sex does little to ease your mind after the fact if your heart is effectively broken. And believe me, you can feel just as bad (if not worse) if you’re the one that leaves. In a breakup, someone has to.

    But if she was that self involved – in spite of her gorgeousness – I doubt very much that it would have been worth it. There has to be give and take…and she sounds like a taker to me.

    Doubt that that marriage is anything to brag about IF it still exists.

    Craig, sometimes you just have to drive till you see daylight. That can be an endless black velvet evening of mythic proportions. But you get there eventually…

    Anyway…

    I try not to look at too many reviews before I write my own – even when it comes to the people I’m really fond of. But I’ve been looking forward to this for a while and I was intensely curious about your opinion.

    When you’re VERY young (as in under 25), you have the ego to believe that you can hold relationships together by the sheer force of your will and *ahem* all the other stuff that you’ve got on the go.

    It won’t happen that way.

    Almost everything has a shelf life. Practically every relationship ends at some point. Dreams are lovely but they’re just dreams.

    You have to know when to move on.

    I’ve been buried under an avalanche of classic film screenings and going to cinemas to view current films that I’ve seen before. I’m starting to get a bit behind. But I fully intend on seeing this opening night here, which is next Friday.

    Remember, Craig. We’re all human and we all go through stuff that’s similar.

    Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Nearly everything that happens turns out for the best.

    It just doesn’t seem that way at the time.

  3. You dated Zooey Deschanel your freshman year? My MAN!

  4. I’m looking forward to seeing this a bit more after skimming your review, although the trailer left me with the Garden State taste in my mouth, which is something I’ve grown extremely weary of in the last year or so. I won’t get to it this week (I have a lot of great cinematic catching up to do) but I’m hoping to see this one in a few weeks.

    BTW, nice to see Joseph Gordon Levitt continue to do smaller fare (even though he’s showing up as Cobra Commander in the Other 2 Hour Toy Ad this Summer). I imagine there was hope this one has a Garden State-esque potential to go all sleeper hit but it’s nice to see the guy trading his cachet for films that are still mostly out of the mainstream. I’m still waiting for him to get “the role” that will really astound us, because he’s shown such potential, but I suppose once that happens Hollywood will try to snatch him up and make him the next Shia Lebouf. So maybe I should be careful what I wish for.

  5. Joel. Much less annoying than Garden State in my opinion, but it threatened constantly.

    Rick…had it been Zooey, I’d REALLY have been a wreck!

    Miranda. Have no fear. As I tried to make clear in relating the anecdote above, I lived, I learned, I moved on. The point was that many of us have Summers in our past and yet we live to tell about it and that’s kind of what the movie is all about.

    That’s not to say I don’t still cling to a bit of bitterness…

  6. I’m only mildly interested in the film but nevertheless really enjoyed your writing here Craig, even though it shared a less than happy memory.

    I wonder whether the story was an indictment of “true love” as opposed to “wrong or doomed love”? I’m not sure what true love necessarily means but I do believe that we can find love with someone that feels more special and right than anything we imagined, and even transcendent at its best. In some ways the love part, so long as it was there from the outset, is the easiest part. It’s how we deal with the challenges of an intimate relationship that ultimately determines its durability.

  7. I thought it was going to be an indictment of “true love” but it really wasn’t. It was an indictment of the notion of love we have from books, TV and movies and that’s what helped save it for me.

    It’s still pro love, just not the kind we’re taught to dream about.

  8. Great review, I definitely agree with it. The performances are great. The script is top notch, it’s as good as anything you’ll find in the genre. My full review is on blog if you want to read all of my thoughts on the film.

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