(Fox Searchlight) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz, Rachel Boston, Geoffrey Arend, Patricia Belcher, Yvette Nicole Brown, Maile Flanagan. Directed by Marc Webb.
We all get into relationships for different reasons. Sometimes – most of the time, I’m hoping – we get in because we honestly believe that this person may be The One. On other occasions, we’re just doing it to pass the time until something better comes along. And other times, what starts out as “just friends” deepens into something special.
Tom (Gordon-Levitt) is a romantic. He believes that true love is inevitable, something that finds you, something you know the moment you set eyes on your soulmate. He has been through the wars of love and has had his ass kicked. He’s something of a settler in most respects; trained as an architect, he has found work as a writer for a greeting card company. However, the one thing he won’t settle for is the love of his life. That is an absolute for him.
Summer (Deschanel) is a beautiful woman who has turned heads ever since she was old enough to know how. She’s had her share of lovers, but watched her parents endure an ugly, bitter divorce. It was bad enough that she has erected emotional walls the Chinese would envy. She’s looking for like, not love – for her, true love is a myth, much like Santa Claus.
She’s impulsive enough to move from Michigan to Los Angeles because she’s bored. She gets a job at the same greeting card company that Tom works for, and the two connect almost instantly. They both like the Smiths, for one. They both have a quirky sense of humor, and they both are intelligent, hip people. Tom’s closest friends – MacKenzie (Arend) and Paul (Gubler) are wary for Tom. He’s lost his heart on more than one occasion, but this time is different. Even Tom’s sister Rachel (Moretz), whom Tom most often turns to for romantic advice (what the hell, she’s twelve, she knows plenty more about the subject than he does) can see it.
The two seem well-suited for each other. Tom is completely smitten, but Summer has a bit of a reserve that Tom is okay with for the time being. After all, it looks like she’s beginning to let him in. Then, with a suddenness that sets his head to spinning in all sorts of directions, she dumps him. He’s left to review the various points of the 500 days he spent with summer (aha! Clever title…) and try to figure out where things went wrong – and what is really important to him.
Director Webb, who has mostly worked in the music video field, takes a very intelligently-written script (by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) that is somewhat difficult to film because of the constant bouncing forward and back in time frames and manages to weave it into a cohesive whole. From the opening graphics, the viewer becomes totally aware that they’ve lucked into something special. The humor is laugh-out-loud funny, and universal to nearly everybody.
It is also unique among comedies. Now, while I have nothing against Judd Apatow and modern comedies like Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up, there’s beginning to be a certain sameness about them. As anti-formulaic as they were, they’ve become so imitated that they’ve become their own formula. (500) Days of Summer is completely different. It has some of the cutting edge elements of those movies, but has cut out the raunch, and added a double dose of intelligence. This is as well-written a romantic comedy as you are likely to find, although in a very real sense this isn’t strictly a romantic comedy – more like an anti-romantic comedy. They do warn you with voiceover narration in the movie’s opening moments that this is not a love story, and the filmmakers stay true to their word.
Part of the movie’s success revolves around the likability of the leads. Both Deschanel (The Good Girl) and Gordon-Levitt (Brick) have plenty of indie cred to begin with, but are also are moving rapidly to the A-list, which they may very well take a huge leap towards after this movie comes out. They have some support – “Criminal Minds” uber-nerd Gubler as Tom’s stable friend, Arend as his manic friend and Boston as a semi-sympathetic ear on a blind date for Tom after the break-up. While it’s true that Deschanel has made a career out of playing the quirky indie girl (and plays one here), she gives Summer just enough depth to make her stand out amidst the pack.
While there is a scintillating indie soundtrack, don’t make the mistake of lumping this with all the indie movies that populate the art houses year after year. Things come out of left field, center field – Hell, out of the bleachers from time to time – enough to keep even the sharpest and most savvy moviegoer on their toes. The humor is biting and sometimes takes shots at indie sacred cows (like a montage of foreign film spoofs during Tom’s dream sequence). How refreshing for a film with this kind of background to not take itself so damn seriously, as indie films are wont to do.
In the end, the movie is about expectations versus reality. We tend to see things the way we want to see them, particularly when it comes to love and relationships. We may love someone so much that it hurts, but love has to be a two-way street, otherwise it’s just obsession. When you run into a movie that is so well-written and that understands what love truly is without the rose-colored glasses and treacle Hollywood is well-known for, you find yourself feeling like you’ve just met someone that you know is going to be your good friend for the rest of your life. It’s the kind of movie that alternates between hysterical and insightful and does just enough of both to keep you off-balance.
(500) Days of Summer is the kind of movie you’ll be quoting to friends and have in the forefront of your mind for a long, long while after the lights come up. For my money, this is the frontrunner for Best Movie of 2009 until another comes along to knock it off its perch – and that’s a big “if”.
REASONS TO GO: A well-written, intelligent romantic comedy that takes on the subject of true love without the rose-colored glasses of Hollywood. Attractive, likable leads have you rooting for them for all the right reasons. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, insightful at others, all set to a scintillating indie soundtrack.
REASONS TO STAY: Can’t think of a single reason to miss this movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly muted sex scenes and a few adult situations (like a dare to shout the word “penis” as loud as you can), but otherwise suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt previously worked together on the 2001 film Manic.
HOME OR THEATER: This is a movie that may be somewhat hard to find, but it is well worth the effort, and a movie this innovative and entertaining deserves all the support it can get.
FINAL RATING: 10/10
TOMORROW: District 9
As you well know, I loved this movie when we saw it earlier this year at the film festival. I especially loved the scene where they are ‘romping’ through the Ikea store. So true to the nature of the story, when things were good it was extremely fun and an encouraging twosome, but when the relationship faded it was ugly. True of most of my ‘partner’ relationships, until of course I found the one right one, that one won’t fade because there is no ebb and flow to the feeling, just constant care and compassion. What I would call true love. But I digress. A great film, especially for those who like to see how real life romance usually works, not the ‘hollywood ending’ ones.