(500) Days of Summer (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I am more than happy to say that one of the most outstanding pictures of the year (so far) is a romantic comedy. However, it is far from a typical one. The always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Latter Days,” “Mysterious Skin,” “Brick,” “The Lookout”) plays Tom Hansen, a greeting card writer who has a passion for architecture but never quite followed it due to some of life’s circumstances. The lovely Zooey Deschanel (“Almost Famous,” “Elf,” “Flakes,” “The Happening”) plays Summer Finn, a new secretary who does not believe in the concept of love and values independence to the fullest. The two are complete opposites, which serves as an ideal template for romance with genuinely awkward moments on the side. But as the film warns us during the first three minutes, it is not a love story, which can mean that a happy ending may not be on the horizon.
The movie was told in a non-linear sequence. It started with Tom confiding to his precocious sister (Chloe Moretz) and two best friends/apartment-mates (Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler) about his fear that his relationship with Summer might be over. I liked the fact that the film immediately jumped into getting to know the characters. That scene showed that Tom was not your typical macho guy who considered girls as mere conquests; he actually had a heart, a brain, and a soul, someone who was not afraid to cry and fall apart in front of people who mattered to him most. That sense of efficiency pervaded the 95-minute running time as it jumped from the 300th day to day 1 and back to 164th. As the audiences jumped back and forth in time, we get a fuller picture about the dynamics (and not always reciprocal feelings) between Tom and Summer. He slowly realized that Summer was someone who he could never have no matter how much effort he tried to put into the relationship because Summer simply did not feel the same way. But I liked the fact that the picture did not make Summer look like a bad person. Like Tom, she had her own values and ethics and varying capability to do good and bad things. Marc Webb, the director, always strived for complexity with regards to characterization and I appreciated his efforts because most romantic comedies of today are too sugary, one-dimensional, or the characters become more like caricatures instead of reflecting actual individuals in the world. In my opinion, Webb managed to capture how it was like for a twentysomething to feel lost in the world but still have that glimmer of hope that things would ultimately turn out for the better. Maturity is one of this film’s biggest strengths and it was always at the forefront.
There were some storytelling techniques that could either annoy audiences and think that the picture was being somewhat pretentious or impress audiences in every way. I was one of the latter group for several reasons. I absolutely loved the foreign language scene because I thought it represented the disconnect between Tom and Summer. I think it served as a metaphor when two people are constantly at odds to the point where they stop trying to understand each other because every sentence of justification feels like a foreign language. Another scene that stood out to me was when Tom attended Summer’s party. The split-screen between what Tom hoped would happen and what actually happened had a great balance of comedy and tragedy. And I think it painfully reflects real life. There were a lot of similarities between the two split-screens but there were also a plethora of glaring differences and others were quite subtle. Lastly, I admit that I am not a very big fan of dancing in movies but it worked here. It was amusing when Tom, because of extreme happiness that he cannot express with words, started dancing in the park and everyone else started joining him (including an animated bird!). Such scenes mentioned proved to me that this was an edgy picture with a purpose, which was different than an indie movie simply trying to be edgy for the sake of being different.
In a nutshell, “(500) Days of Summer” is a picture for movie lovers who love watching films showcasing real-life instead of films imitating real-life. There is a subtle but important difference between the two and this one is well aware of that line it daringly treads. By the end, others may be saddened by Tom’s journey from naiveté to awareness or be uplifted with the possibilities that face him. I belong with the latter because I believe in the necessity of sacrifices for the learning experience. This is the twenty-first century “Annie Hall” and it should definitely not be missed.