There is a moment in every relationship where you arrive at this point where you "know" if this is going to be "the one"- That is, unless this moment never arrives.
"500 Days of Summer," the debut feature film from director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, is a romantic comedy that evolves around these moments of knowing, not knowing, thinking you know and not really knowing for sure that you know what you think you know.
Who really understands this thing we call love?
Certainly not Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Brick" and "Mysterious Skin") and Summer (Zooey Deschanel, "Elf" and Almost Famous").
Tom believes in love, or at least in the greeting card version of love. Of course, that makes sense as Tom is a greeting card writer who spends his days writing soundbyte sentimentality to put words to those things many of us can't communicate. He wants to be an architect, but has seemingly blocked himself into this safe and relatively drama free professional existence.
Summer, on the other hand, is either the walking wounded or simply mortally jaded in all matters of the heart. She meets Tom. She likes Tom. She appreciates Tom but, she states very up front, she will not become Tom's girlfriend or, for that matter, any other label that we like to use to define our relationships.
Because this is a romantic comedy, we know that Tom and Summer will be attracted to one another, will resist that attraction, will finally give into that attraction, will seem perfect with one another and, finally, will not be perfect with one another.
We expect that "500 Days of Summer" will unfold like every other romantic comedy that Hollywood gives us...somehow, someway Tom and Summer will weave their way through their many obstacles and will end up happily ever after.
Hollywood loves happily ever after.
Yet in "500 Days of Summer," one of the most delightful and intelligent romantic comedies since "Love Actually," it becomes obvious rather early on that director Marc Webb is opting for authenticity over Hollywood formula and the final result is a film that somehow manages to seamlessly blend hopefulness with heartbreak and the magic of love with its mundane realities.
Much of this is accomplished in a way that some will find maddening, yet it unfolds perfectly within the context of the lives of Tom and Summer. "500 Days of Summer" flashes back and forth throughout the film between the early days of the awkward first meetings, the fumbling days of getting to know one another, the celebratory days of transcendent love, the bitter break-up, the unfathomable grief and, yes, the resolution that is happy and satisfying and simply feels right for everyone involved.
Isn't this what we all do with love? We remember the good, the bad, the challenging, the moments that defined the relationship and the moments that, perhaps, defined its breakdown? We don't recall our lost loves in chronological order, but by the moments that touched us most deeply and shaped our souls.
This is exactly what unfolds in "500 Days of Summer," a relationship of two people who seem so delightfully perfect for one another and, yet, a relationship in which that moment of "knowing" simply never arrives for one of the two involved.
The brilliance of Neustadter and Weber's script is that through the entire life cycle of the relationship, the blame game is avoided and, quite simply, two people are companioned falling in like, maybe falling in love, caring for one another and coming to terms with everything the relationship is, is not and may never be. The dialogue is rich, authentic, honest and genuine and magnificently brought to life by the entire cast.
For those of you who know Joseph Gordon-Levitt only for his longtime role as the youngest cast member on televisions "Third Rock From the Sun," his performance here will be a delightful revelation. For those who've followed his growing career in indie flicks over the past five years or so, his performance in "500 Days of Summer" will leave you giddy with joy. With few exceptions, his disappointing turn in "Havoc" being the primary example, Gordon-Levitt has been building a stunning repertoire of diverse performances in such films as the magnificent and underrated "Mysterious Skin," the far too underseen "Latter Days" and the critically acclaimed "Brick." Here, Gordon-Levitt marvelously intertwines both the innocence and hopefulness of Tom with his increasing despair as the reality of his relationship with Summer does not meet his expectation. In films such as "Mysterious Skin," Gordon-Levitt has proven he's an actor willing to take chances and in "500 Days of Summer," he surrenders himself to the full breadth of Tom's relationship in such a way that it is simply awesome to behold.
The same is very much true for Zooey Deschanel, quite literally the perfect actress to portray Summer. Summer could easily have been turned into not much more than a beautiful yet jaded and bitchy young woman, but Deschanel crawls inside Summer's soul and brings her to life in such a way that it is impossible to not identify with Tom's complete adoration for her. For all her aggravating quirkiness, Summer is beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, honest and true. Deschanel has proven time and again quite skilled at portraying vibrant and spirited women filled to the brim with life. In "500 Days of Summer," Deschanel radiates a beauty and tenderness that challenges the audience to not accept the stereotype of her even though much of what we are seeing in the film comes from Tom's perspective. Deschanel's performance is richly realized, funny and heartfelt.
Quite literally, every frame of "500 Days of Summer" is beautiful and awesome to behold, with scenes that unfold like a Bergmanesque remembrance all the way to an unexpected and yet spot-on magical dance sequence that magnificently evokes the feelings we all feel when we believe, at least for a fleeting moment, that we have found "the one."
There are films that come along ever so often that prove to be time capsules of the human experience- "500 Days of Summer" is such a film. With tenderness and humanity, joy and pain, hope and heartbreak and everything in between, "500 Days of Summer" bursts to life and becomes far and away the best romantic comedy of 2009 and, perhaps, in recent years.
"500 Days of Summer" was the opening night film of the 2009 Indianapolis International Film Festival. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 17, 2009 and will be gradually released across the country.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
“It’s love, it’s not Santa Claus”
She just wasn’t the right person for you. It’s tough to realize it or accept it at the time because one is so infatuated and/or in love with a certain person. There are so many signals telling you that the two of you are not a good match but because of the good qualities in your significant other at the time, it’s hard to accept the truth. At the end of the day, all the heartbreak and moments of misery were totally worth it because they made you grow into a better person, one who will no longer make the same mistakes he or she made in their youth. That’s what (500) Days of Summer is all about.
Tom is so in love with the idea of Summer that he completely ignores all of the things that she has been telling him all along. From the get-go, she let him know what type person she was and what type of person she wasn’t. Tom was too blinded by the stunning beauty to actually take in any of what she was saying. While romantic comedies tell us that Tom and Summer should be together and/or belong with each other, any person actually watching the movie will realize that Tom and Summer are polar opposites and while the idea of the two as a couple is an attractive one, the reality of it says something completely different. In Tom’s eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer’s not a girl, she’s a phase. Tom was just too close to the image to see the complete picture.
While the idea of soul-mates may be something straight out of the movies, one can be very happy with numerous people. But then what happens when the relationship runs out of steam? Then you just have two people who really aren’t that compatible. That’s what happens here. Only Tom is completely oblivious to it and instead Summer is forced to be the dickish voice of reason. While no one in the film is a villain, Summer, at times, is painted that way. But really she did nothing wrong as she had told Tom from the start that she wanted nothing serious. Where the audience is almost forced to hate her comes towards the end of the film. We as an audience, especially in romantic comedies, have been trained to believe that the two main characters will end up together no matter what, which is obviously not too realistic. Here it hits very close to home. We find out that there will be no happy ending for the two as a couple as it is revealed, in one of the most memorable movie scenes of all-time, that Summer is now engaged. Tom angrily walks off, tears in his eyes and heartbreaking music playing.
The film then enters its darkest phase as Tom in inconsolable. Everything that made him smile, now makes him depressed. Then one day, it’s all over. He finally accepts what Summer (and the audience) have known all along. Summer just wasn’t the one for Tom. In a final brilliant scene between the two, closure is reached. Tom sincerely wishes the best for Summer as he wonders (as do we) how this impulsive and somewhat cold woman will be able to maintain a loving relationship. She does let him know that he was right all along though and love is possible for even the greatest cynics. Tom goes off on his journey, with his head up and gets to walk away from Summer on a positive note. While the lines hurt (“I just knew what I never knew when I was with you” or “You never wanted to be someone’s girlfriend and now you’re somebody’s wife) they were needed.
Then when you least expect it, Summer is over and here comes Autumn (literally). Some will complain about the final scene and feel that it was too predictable and/or wasn’t needed but I feel it was both welcome and needed. Things do happen like that (it happened to me). You finally meet the person you actually know you should be with, have an instant connection and realize that the previous relationship, while both fun and miserable at times, shouldn’t have gotten to you so much. You realize it was merely a stepping stone to something greater. It was also needed because not only did it bring out good things, it also brought out many negative things and lessons of what should no longer be repeated. It brought growth. It was fun while it lasted, but ultimately it was not meant to be. You were just the last person to actually know this. I’ve had my heart broken before. Truly, truly broken. But when I look back at me in my heartbroken phase, it’s pretty hilarious, because it felt so much more extreme than it really was.
The beauty of this film is that it is very personal and gets me thinking about my own relationships and my own life. We’ve all hit rock bottom but at the end, there is always Autumn. The fact that this film can get me to go on and on about so many things or have me go in depth about so many things is a testament to what a great film it is. I didn’t even mention many of my favorite scenes like the dancing in the streets sequence, Summer crying while watching the end of The Graduate, etc. I could go on but really 900+ words probably is too much and I most likely have lost several of you by now. Maybe I’ll do a part two eventually that analyzes some other theme/aspect of this wonderful film. The fact that I can do that is a very good example of why this is at the top of my favorite movies list.