There are few subjects that are more puzzling than love. What is it? How do you know when you find it? Will it last? Is there really “true love” and is there “the one” person out there who is your perfect match, someone who is your romantic destiny?
That’s what (500) Days of Summer is about, and it’s a truly delightful, funny, heart-warming film.
Summer, in the title, is not a season, but rather an odd, cynical girl (played by Zooey Deschanel) who doesn’t believe in relationships and wants to save “the serious stuff” for when she’s older. She gets a job at a greeting card company where Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a writer, though he’s really a frustrated architect.
Tom looks up and sees Summer over the cubicle walls. That’s Day (1). But I’m getting ahead of myself, actually, because it starts with Day 488. The film takes us on a tour of the ups and downs of their relationship, one that lasts 500 days, and it’s not linear. We bounce around from highlights to periods when they’re not talking to each other, misunderstandings that leave Tom so depressed he’s unable to get out of bed to a wonderful scene where the two of them run through an Ikea store pretending they’re setting up their suburban love nest and a brilliant scene with Tom walking to work after Summer spends the night at his apartment for the first time.
As different moments in the relationship are portrayed, on-screen titles show “Day (32)” or “Day (317)” and so on. I was afraid it would be hard to keep track of given how much it bounces back and forth, but in fact it’s a terrific narrative device and makes the film far more poignant and engaging than if it were a linear love story. Actually, as the narrator explains early on “This is a movie about boy meets girl, but it’s not a love story.” It is, however, a delightful film.
Tom is an optimist who has been waiting his whole life for his soul mate, while Summer has had a number of different relationships — wittily explained on screen — and has moved to Los Angeles because she was bored with her life. Does she have friends? We never really learn much about her and what makes her tick, but then again, this is Tom’s story and when he’s not with Summer, he’s hanging out with his two buddies McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), who are the guy who has lots of relationship advice but hasn’t been in a relationship forever and the guy who is still with his elementary school sweetheart, respectively. They’re both funny, warm and caring friends to Tom and are the kind of guys every man would like to have as buddies.
The real standout in the film, however, was Tom’s wise-beyond-her-years little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz, who is 12). The narrator in the film has many of the most wry observations about the progression of the relationship between Tom and Summer, but it’s Rachel who gives Tom the insight into women and relationship dynamics, and has some of the funniest lines.
(500) Days of Summer also taps into the romantic ideals of The Graduate, and there are scenes that are clearly inspired by the earlier film. At one point, Tom is actually thinking about the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross have just run away from her impending wedding and are in the back of a bus; we see it on screen for just a moment or two. There’s also a snippet in the movie from Star Wars that’s used to much funnier effect.
What I really liked about (500) Days of Summer was that everyone in this movie was comfortable, believable, and seemed just like the kind of people you probably already have in your life. Tom perpetually has sweater-vests on, and wears a tie to work, but leaves it loose and doesn’t button his collar up. His shirt is more often untucked than tucked in, but he doesn’t look a slob, just a relaxed guy. Summer wears funky clothes, often in black, but it’s not a statement, it’s just the kind of wardrobe that helps her stay comfortable and not worry about her looks.
One of the more telling lines of dialogue, one that offers insight into both Tom’s optimistic character and Summer’s cynic, is when Tom insists early on that “I need to know you’re not going to wake up in the morning and feel differently about me” Summer responds: “I can’t give you that, no-one can.”
The other profound moment is when Tom’s pal Paul is describing his ideal woman, and then says about his long-time girlfriend Robin: “Actually, Robin’s better than the girl of my dreams. She’s real.”
And that’s what (500) Days of Summer is too: it’s a very real film about love and relationships, warm, funny and delightful, tentative, nerve-wracking and depressing. First time director Marc Webb has put together one of the sweetest films of the year.