If there is a genre of movie that I would classify as my least favorite, it would have to be romantic comedies. Most romantic comedies are formulaic, unfunny and contrary to their label not all that romantic either. Although every once in a while, a movie will come around to breathe new life into a fizzling genre. Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer (I’m still not sure why the 500 in the title is in parenthesis though), is just the shot in the arm that the tired romantic comedy genre needed.
The plot of the movie is – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – boy meets girl and they fall in love. This plot may sound familiar but the execution is far above what most studios are releasing this summer such as The Ugly Truth and The Proposal. The boy in this movie is played by Joseph Gordon–Levitt (The Lookout) and the girl he falls for is the gorgeously cute, Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man). Gordon-Levitt is Tom, an aspiring architect, who after not finding a job in that field, settles for writing greeting cards. Tom is an idealist when it comes to the subject of love (he watched too many sad British pop videos as a boy), we are told through the films ever present voice-over narration.
Tom hasn’t found the girl of his dreams, until one day Summer (Deschanel) gets a job as his boss’s assistant. Tom is instantly infatuated with Summer, as most guys are (we are told she averaged 18 double-takes a day by men on the bus). Tom’s only problem is getting up the courage to talk to her. He spends weeks consulting with his guy friends for advice, although the best advice he gets is from his wise beyond her years younger sister. Tom is having no luck getting beyond initial pleasantries with Summer until it is announced that the whole office is going to a karaoke night. At the karaoke bar Tom and his buddy discuss relationships and love with Summer. She informs Tom that she is happy being single and doesn’t believe in the fairytale called “love.” After this initial meeting, chemistry develops between the two, and they begin seeing more of each other.
As the two are in a furniture store pretending to be married to each other, Summer lets Tom know that she doesn’t want anything serious and Tom, against his own wishes, says he agrees with her that they are “just friends.” After the two get back from their IKEA trip however, Tom soon finds Summer in his bed. What’s a guy to do? The next morning, after consummating their “relationship” Tom is on his way to work. You see Tom is having the best morning of his life; the scene reflects this as Tom is high-fived by strangers and even engages in a huge dance number, complete with an animated blue bird landing on his shoulder.
The next few days run smoothly for Tom, until one night he gets in a fight at a bar with a guy who is hitting on Summer. Thinking that he was defending her, she is really disgusted by the act and tells Tom she can defend herself. Tom says that he gets a say in their relationship too and she is his girlfriend. The two soon make up and all is well for while until, one night at dinner, Summer suddenly breaks up with him. After that night, Tom is crushed, and his friends tell him to just get over her but Tom says he only wants to get her back.
(500) Days of Summer starts with a deep voiced narrator telling us that this is not a love story…and it really isn’t, it’s more about two people falling out of love. Another thing the movie does so brilliantly to differentiate itself from so many other films of this type is it starts with the couple breaking up. The story of (500) is told in non sequential order so it starts on day 488 and works backwards, forwards and every up and down in between, similar to Christopher Nolan’s Memento. This idea is not a new one in film but it is the first time I can remember it being applied to this genre. It certainly works here as we discover how the couple fell for each other and watch their romance blossom and ultimately, dwindle.
The two leads performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are amazing, with the better performance here being from Gordon-Levitt. As Tom, he puts us in his situation, as everyone can identify with his character’s plight of trying to get his dream girl, only to lose her. We hope that he will win her back and everything will be “happily ever after.” But this being a truly fresh takes on the standard boy-girl story, and the narrator warning of its outcome, we know it may not work out in the end.
Deschanel gives a good performance here as well as the free spirit love-cynic Summer, but like other actors of late (Michael Cera), she is fast approaching being typecast in this type of role. The script was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who also wrote The Pink Panther 2 (?). That blunder aside, here they more than make up for Panther 2, as the script is very funny with great dialogue and a very realistic look at how a “real” relationship is.
The movie was directed by first time director Marc Webb, who up until now has only done music videos. You can tell that the music industry is where he got his start. The film makes great use of its soundtrack (even Deschanel has a song in the film). Webb also has a great visual sense as well; there are a couple standout scenes. One is a scene where Tom goes to a party to try and win back Summer and the screen splits to reveal the reality of the situation mixed with Tom’s expectations of what happens. The other scene is the dance sequence after Tom and Summer’s first night together, it’s a really infectious upbeat sequence that had me smiling along with Tom.
(500) Days of Summer has been out for a while, it was released July 17, but only recently came to any theaters in my area (St.Louis). I’m not sure why Fox has been so slow in getting this out in more theaters. It’s a great, fresh take on a tired genre and if you get a chance to see this – you need to – and that’s high praise coming from a guy who loathes most chick flicks.