“The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman… Bitch.”
With that, a certain contender for one of the year’s best films (so far) disconnects from the patently absurd formula of contemporary romantic comedies and plugs itself into a relevant reality. As the tag line suggests –in one of the best cases of honesty in advertising film has ever seen– (500) Days of Summer is not a love story. Despite its bitingly acerbic intro, it’s not a big ol’ sarcastic crap on love, either. In whole, (500) Days of Summer is closer to a whimsical deconstruction of that one relationship everyone’s had: the one that got away and left you jaded.
(500) Days of Summer premiered at Sundance earlier this year amidst melting hearts and giddy accolades for director Marc Webb and stars Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Daschenel. Nationwide audiences now get a chance to see the movie and give it a dollar-shaped high five. Surprisingly, it’s not receiving a lot of buzz in the months since Sundance, which is too bad. (500) Days of Summer is a stylized, fun and delightfully mainstream romcom dressed in the trappings of indie sensibilities. It’s totally accessible, full of eccentric, even sit-com moments (including a sage little sister who dispenses hard-knock advice to a mopey older brother) and characters– lead by a charming and vulnerable Gordon-Levitt and a lovely and sincere Deschanel– who are all heart.
Deftly filmed in an almost unrecognizable LA, (500) Days of Summer makes SoCal’s crown jewel look like Seattle or somewhere you’d actually like to live, populated with people you might actually want to know. One of these is a moppishly hip, satchel-slinging romanticist, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Tom’s not an ass-slapping, hard-partying, fantasy league player. He’s just a normal guy– a greeting card writer with a few genuine–not farcical–pals who like to hit up karaoke bars, coffee shops and muse about chicks.
Tom’s line of work is a window to his heart- the dude believes in the blissful, fun stories of love as laid out in movies and greeting cards and has aligned his expectations toward a life that’s going to unfold that way. At work, he meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a quirky, fun-loving gal who projects Tom’s ideal (don’t they always?) with a dash of mystery. Summer remains an enigmatic shadow throughout the film– both lovely and obtuse. Her character isn’t so much about Summer as who she was through Tom’s lens of highs and lows.
As it turns out, Tom charmingly complicates her simplicity with his preconceptions– even when Summer repeatedly tells him she’s not getting involved for a relationship, but for the ride. In short, she likes him– maybe even likes-likes him– but it ain’t love. Tom, adhering to his imagined rulebook of romantic chronology, simply refuses to see it.
Told in non-sequential, calendared vignettes, (500) Days of Summer doesn’t traditionally unfold. Instead, it offers up scattered peeks at the awkward fun of falling in love, the lulling sag of a relationship that’s slipped into routine and the emotional hangover that hits when it’s all over. And while (500) Days of Summer does lay itself out in non-linear fashion, it’s still linear in its telling. There are never moments when the audience is left in the lurch– waiting for an explanation as the calendar skips to another place on the relationship timeline. Events are threaded in their emotional tone connection, balancing the sweet with the sour; jumping back or forward to put an exclamation point (sometimes in amusingly exaggerated surrealism– yes, that’s an animated bird up there) on events just unfolded. It’s a romance that could have been cribbed from anyone’s journal and one that allows the bittersweet end to play out to fruition.
In a shot of unconventionally fresh revitalization, 500 flips the traditional romantic roles. Here, it’s the dude taking on the traditional female role of pining for romance and “the one” while the girl takes on the traditionally male role of reluctance and nervous waffling.
What’s most striking about (500) Days of Summer is its dude sensibilities. The movie pleasantly delivers a focus from the guy’s perspective. It’s a “love story” for the fellas. And while (500) Days of Summer owes a lot to Woody Allen’s 1979 relationship retrospective Annie Hall, so much that it might be easy to discount 500 on that alone, director Marc Webb still serves up a great deal of life and joy to be found in this modern-day “retelling”. For those who may not be familiar with its influences, the “Annie Hall-mages” will be all the more delightfully fun.
And (500) Days of Summer is fun. Slogging through a rehash of the universal truths in a relationship life cycle might sound tedious, but this anti-romcom is enticingly charming. Marc Webb’s self-referential exploration of Tom, Summer and their 500 days together is so congenial, witty and true-to-life, it comes out on the other side an affirmation of love (maybe not the one you anticipated) rather than a bitter spit in its direction– all capped with a sublimely sweet and satisfying high note.
(500) Days of Summer arrives as a completely enjoyable confection for a season awash in fireballs, bullets and action-fueled angst. Even more refreshing, it arrives as a romantic comedy that’s grounded not in wish fulfillment, but reality fulfillment. After all, there may not be a “One”, but love’s out there all the same.