The romantic comedy genre is tough because audiences tend to have such preconceived notions pertaining to the endings of these films. The couple is supposed to get together and live happily ever after. It is in this way that these movies tend to fail. The problems are quickly solved, people are made to be the quickest forgivers in the world, and everything ends up neatly tied up with a bow on top.
Not in 500 Days of Summer.
The film takes an interesting approach right from the get go, which is to review this relationship in terms of flashbacks. Now, it could have gotten a little gimmicky to bounce around to progress the narrative in such a way, but it never feels that way. Each episode of the relationship tells you all you need to know about where they were and gives you a sneak into where they’re going (or, actually, not going).
The movie obviously relies on the relationship between Tom and Summer, and it starts as a sweet relationship. Much as we’re accustomed in this type of film, boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, but here, we get an honest look at what each seems to expect from the relationship. The narrator, right at the start of the movie, tells the audience that this is not a movie about love. Summer quickly informs Tom that she isn’t looking for anything serious, and try as he might to keep it casual, Tom can’t help but fall for Summer. So, as the relationship progresses, we get to see what Tom is doing wrong. We see him getting too connected, knowing that Summer, in all her honesty, told him not to right at the beginning.
Tom has a very close relationship with his younger sister, and I thought it was very effective for someone much younger than him be his advice guru. These scenes are packed with Tom looking at his sister as a cheap version of a psychiatrist, and it works very well. Surprisingly engaging.
The movie is brimming with smart dialogue, a catchy soundtrack, and a lot of fun. A scene involving a random dancing sequence to Hall & Oates is incredibly upbeat, and I think a lot of males could relate to how excited and optimistic you get after finally banging a girl you’ve been pursuing for awhile.
The movie also greatly succeeds at not overly developing supporting characters. The film centers on Tom and Summer’s relationship, and everyone else is on the outside of that. We never get story arcs involving the rest of the characters to sidetrack us in our journey to find out what causes the end of this relationship.
And, ultimately, it’s pretty obvious that it’s just one of those relationships where one person is in, and one is out. I’m quite sure most of us have seen, or even been involved in relationships like this. Relationships where someone is diving in head first, and the other won’t even really walk up to the water. And they justify that by being honest up front, no matter how frustrating that is to the other person.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt is a very interesting actor. Most people probably recognize him from 3rd Rock from the Sun, 10 Things I Hate About You, maybe Angels in the Outfield, and criminally not from the much-unseen but fantastic film Brick. He is undoubtedly a skilled actor, and he can play serious and comedic with a lot of diversity. Here he’s our soon to be heartbroken beau, but he still manages to form a human connection with the audience.
Zooey Deschanel is very much an indie darling, and she toes the line in this movie very effectively. She is both somewhat irritating (in her negligence of Tom) but also very honest and sweet. Plus she likes The Smiths. Her character is quite complex while also being quite simple. She’s honest, we always know where she stands. But she sometimes seems to forget her hippie-esque view of love, and the audience gets excited that maybe she’s going to fall in love. But still, she keeps a distance between them that is always in full view. They look like a cute couple, but they also just look like two good friends.
People will probably compare this to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it’s actually not much like that at all. While that film was more about a relationship that didn’t work but the gods of fate (and our friends at Lacuna) allowed a second chance. In this film, its just about a relationship that was doomed from the start.
The movie succeeds based on it’s originality. It’s fun and depressing yet full of hope at the same time. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the two leading performances do exactly what they needed to do. It’s an indie/art house/romantic comedy, one of the first of its kind. It’s going to be very tough to live up to.