(500) Days of Summer, 2009.
Directed by Marc Webb.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Chloë Grace Moretz.
A young man falls for a woman who is skeptical about the existence of love.
Director Marc Webb’s feature film debut (500) Days of Summer is a romantic comedy – but before you go running to the hills, stick with me a second. This is not your usual formulaic romantic comedy. Sure, boy meets girl and boy falls in love with girl, but where most romantic comedies would have the credits rolling at this point, (500) Days of Summer decides to show us what happens beyond the honeymoon phase of a relationship. We’re forced to endure the grueling reality of everything crashing and burning, and although it may draw comparisons with Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), this story utilises quite a clever gimmick.
Instead of the plot unfolding in chronological order, we skip backwards and forwards during the relationship between the boy, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the girl, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). There’s a lot of humour to be found in the juxtaposition between the early days of a blossoming romance and the later days when the fire is dwindling, and the narrative is never confusing or difficult to follow. Both actors bring a believability to their characters and to their relationship, and so subtle clues are to be found in their body language depending on what stage of their relationship we are witnessing.
It’s a good job that both Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are so inherently likeable in their roles, as they really do carry the movie between them. There’s a host of minor characters who make regular appearances, but they’re either undeveloped or a little too quirky to really work. Take, for example, Tom’s younger sister Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz). Now Chloë Grace Moretz is a fantastic young actress, but the world-weary character she portrays never really packs much resonance, despite her often attempting to adopt the voice of reason in the film.
Occasionally (500) Days of Summer breaks free from its unconventional way of telling the story and partakes in flights of fancy. Some of these work well – Tom’s dance number, for example – and some are cute but incorporated a little clumsily – such as characters addressing the meaning of love directly to the camera. But then there’s what is perhaps the greatest scene in the movie – a split-screen depiction of expectations vs. reality. It’s a brilliantly realised scene that really does stand out, and it’s also incredibly relatable.
The aspect of (500) Days of Summer that perhaps works best is that it is a romantic comedy told from a male perspective. I don’t wish to make any sweeping generalisations, but the female focused rom-coms reek of predictability, and in fact, if we were to examine Summer’s story arc we can see that if the film were to focus on her we would once again be faced with an overly-familiar plot. By following Tom we get to see the other side of the story, and we refreshingly get to see a male cope with heartbreak.
Beyond the enjoyable story and the fine acting, the film is beautifully shot with colour used to emphasise the various stages of the relationship. It would also be rather unfitting to discuss this movie without mentioning the incredible. Songs such as ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths are expertly woven into the narrative, and the inclusion of musicians such as Regina Spektor and Doves enhances the indie feel of the movie.
While offbeat and quirky are labels often associated with (500) Days of Summer, at its heart it is a simple story told well. To see such an honest portrayal of a relationship is refreshing, and although this may not be the perfect date movie, it’s a great film for a rainy afternoon.