Sunday, January 20, 2013

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, 95 minutes
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloƫ Grace Moretz

I sometimes wonder whether Fox Searchlight is a term meaning indie stuff that Steve is quite likely to enjoy. It's amazing how often that's true. My favorites from Fox Searchlight include The Descendants, Juno, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, Slumdog Millionaire, Thank You for Smoking, Once, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Little Miss Sunshine, and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

The movie immediately grabbed my attention during the opening credits which contain the following message:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Especially you Jenny Beckman.


Yes, (500) Days of Summer is deliberately quirky. It tells the story of the relationship between Tom Hansen (Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Deschanel). Because the majority of the events have already happened, the story is told in a series of flashbacks from Tom's viewpoint. To muddle things further, it jumps around at random, using title cards to show which of the 500 days of the relationship is being remembered. This has the effect of keeping us off balance; one moment we are sharing Tom's hope that he will end up with Summer, and then we see the relationship already established and about to fall apart. If it had been told in a strictly linear fashion, it wouldn't have worked so well.

Other storytelling devices involve the use of a sarcastic narrator, a split screen showing Tom's expectations and the reality, and his discussions with his sister, Rachel (Moretz), who is about 11 years old. I particularly liked Rachel's character. Although she's just 11, she makes a lot more sense than her older brother. She's deliberately portrayed as being wise and intelligent, and her simple advice seems so obvious that we wonder why Tom has made his relationship with Summer as complicated as it is.

Why is it complicated?

Summer doesn't like to label things, so she doesn't want to be thought of as Tom's girlfriend, insisting that they are friends. Tom feels insecure without that defined structure, and wants to know where the relationship is heading. He thinks that two people who regularly have sex must be more than friends. Summer insists that she doesn't believe in true love, and just wants to have fun.

Many of the scenes are genuinely funny. Tom works as a greeting card writer, and his failing relationship starts to bleed into his work. I can't reveal exactly how, but you'll laugh when you see the scene. Another strong element is music. Tom is portrayed as someone who grew up listening to sad British punk bands, and I smiled when he's shown wearing Joy Division T-shirts. He first attracts Summer's attention by listening to The Smiths when she bumps into him in an elevator. There's also a good scene which takes place at a karaoke bar, which showcases Deschanel's singing ability and has Tom performing a passable version of The Pixies' Here Comes Your Man.

Apart from wanting to be in a serious relationship with Summer, Tom also dreams of being an architect. One of his favorite spots to view buildings sets the scene for several of his memories from the 500 days. Summer is an administrative assistant at Tom's company and apparently doesn't dream about doing anything else with her life.

Relationships are unpredictable, and I think that the movie is using the unconventional narrative to stress that point. It's not something to be taken seriously, but there are a few truths revealed along its meandering journey. I've watched it several times, but I have to be in the right mood. It's the sort of movie that might be annoying if you are looking for something with a definite message.

The $7.5 million budget seems tiny in comparison to director Marc Webb's next feature, The Amazing Spider-Man (estimated at $230 million), but it's a good first effort.

Zooey Deschanel seems ideal for these kind of roles, whereas Joseph Gordon-Levitt has shown that he can mix comedy with serious drama. If you want an example, look no further than the excellent 50/50.

If you're in the mood for quirky comedy, or like the actors involved, (500) Days of Summer is worth checking out.

Overall score 3.75/5

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  1. I LOVE this movie and it's one of my favorites of all time of JGL's work. 50/50 I think is my very favorite. It is a quirky film and really struck a chord with me.

    Have you ever seen My Last Five Girlfriends? Julian Kemp's film is terrific.

    1. No, I have never seen My Last Five Girlfriends. I'm glad you like 500 Days. That guy could be me, with his taste in music.

  2. Love this film. My favorite from 2009, actually.

    1. I'm glad I own it. My favorite from 2009 is either Up in the Air or Inglourious Basterds.