What is 500 Days of Summer? The television spots scream “Romantic Comedy! Bring the ladies!” but the earlier trailers emphasize that this is a different kind of love story. The story has elements of a RomCom, a coming of age story and an independent drama. It’s rare that a film is so deft at switching gears that I have trouble identifying plays on tropes from new material.
This initial confusion lead to many different – Gasp! – emotions about how to review this film. Do I let my own personal experience with the movie motivate me to get up on the rooftops and shout the praises of 500 Days? Or, do I divorce myself from personal experience and watch this film as a potpourri of styles that refuse to be categorized?
Directly after seeing 500 Days of Summer I called my ex-girlfriend. I attended my screening with a guy named Bob and therefore had to re-orient my critical mind with the other half of this film’s target audience: the women who assume it’s a romantic comedy.
My ex on Joseph Gordon-Levitt: “I’ll go to any movie he’s in just to stare at him for awhile.”
My ex on Zooey Deschanel: “I don’t really like her. She just does her hipster-thing through every movie. But I’d still see a movie with her in it for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”
And that’s how, if we were still dating, we would have ended up seeing (and enjoying) 500 Days of Summer when it opens in limited release on July 17th, state-side.
Guys, rejoice, this is one of the first times you might be taken to a film being sold as a romantic comedy and actually end up with a experience that was made for you. The story of 500 Days of Summer is told out of order and focuses on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character because the film is using a loose memory-based plot structure to tell the tale of a romance from the male perspective.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, an aspiring architect that is stuck writing greeting cards for a living. His boss hires a new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), and Tom decides to ignore her until he realizes she also likes The Smiths. After that, Tom is hooked on Summer.
Thing is, Summer doesn’t want to have a relationship, she just wants to be friends. To Summer, letting anyone get close to her defines her, and she’s one of those girls who does not want herself defined. I would attempt to clarify, but you’ve either had a crush on a Summer yourself or you’ve been in the immediate proximity to a guy who was obsessed (and likely had his heart broken) by a Summer. If you can’t identify Zooey Deschanel’s character archetype within five seconds of seeing her, the likelihood of you understanding why Tom puts himself through the ringer for this seemingly-unattainable girl is low.
Luckily for me and my male, mid-20s, don’t-you-dare-call-us-hipsters, film-obsessed demographic, Director Marc Webb, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have a big target pointed at our chests (ahem..crotch? Just throwing that out there). Their gun is Deschanel’s face, and the bullets are her smile, big-blue-eyes and bangs.
500 Days feels like a comedy at first with enough quirk peppered in to rip off the jaded viewer’s RomCom scab and let the wound bleed out a little. Then, it sneaks into the wound and gets under your skin. Like some sort of cinematic tick…and I mean that in the best way possible.
Instead of a sassy friend that only speaks the truth, for example, that role is relegated to Tom’s little sister (played brilliantly by Chloe Moretz who has raised my expectations for her portrayal of Hit Girl in Kick-Ass). Instead of sticking to the standard RomCom structure of boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, girl-leaves-boy, boy-wins-her-back, 500 Days will jump to random days within the field of 500 to accent a particular joke or situation.
Or maybe it’s not a plot device? Maybe this film is about how you remember that girl who broke your heart; the lightning you had in a bottle for a brief moment. When you’re just a dude who tried his best only to be crushed by something you’ll never fully understand.
I was surprised how much the movie connected with me on a “guy” level, because – let’s face it – this is how getting your heart broken goes when you’re viewing the situation inside your own head.
If I have a negative criticism, it’s that the movie occasionally feels like a RomCom gimmick that isn’t aware it’s being gimmicky. About half-way through the film, I made myself a little promise: if the movie ended the way I predicted it would after watching 48 minutes, I would hate it.
Good News: Didn’t hate it.
As a romantic comedy, 500 Days Of Summer delivers slightly more substance than I was expecting. As a genre-hopping indie, 500 Days of Summer plays on RomCom tropes well, then delivers an honest and realistic portrayal of a modern romance.
If I allowed myself to be completely personal, I’d say something like this: Rare is the summer film that seems to understand something about me besides my love of things blowing up. I think guys at a certain period in their life will connect with this film mere hours after seeing it and will want to – and should – see it again. There are things in this movie that hit on a very real emotional undercurrent, and there aren’t a lot of movies that try to talk to guys like He’s Just Not That Into You was made to talk to women. I have my Summer and chances are you have your Summer too.
BUT, since I have made an attempt to get better since my Transformers review had some of you screaming for my head, I encourage you jump into the comments and yell at me some more. (Just don’t ask about the story behind my Summer.)