(500) Days of Summer is as close to perfect as a movie gets. A highly subjective claim? Sure, but so are all movie reviews, and this is hardly the time to get into that argument. As far as I’m concerned, Marc Webb’s directorial debut is a wondrous gift; a reminder why people devote their lives to making movies and why the rest of us devote our lives to loving them. Should the human race ever meet an alien species, (500) Days of Summer deserves to be presented to them in a basket of DVD’s alongside Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Annie Hall, reflecting what humanity can be at our best, and what we are capable of creating. Sure, movies like Inglourious Basterds and There Will Be Blood are cinema at its finest, but this movie is about as truthful a documentation of love and heartbreak you’ll find on celluloid. If you believe there is anything worth capturing on film more than those two things, I suggest an urgent visit to the cardiologist.
As the film’s narrator reminds us in the opening minutes, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story; it is a story about love. Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets and instantly falls for Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) on the 8th of January. He will spend the next 500 days loving her, crying over her, desiring her, hating her, adoring her and wishing he had never met her (although not necessarily in that order). You can hardly blame him. Summer is the kind of girl that doesn’t believe in love, keeps relationships casual, has a gorgeous singing voice and claims her favourite Beatle is Ringo. Like the song Octopus’s Garden, she’s frustratingly lovable. Deschanel positions herself as the Number 1 crush for indie boys and girls all over the world by making Summer a realistic, but ultimately unattainable, dream girl.
Although her name might be in the title, this isn’t Summer’s movie. That honour belongs to Gordon-Levitt’s Tom, who deals with his breakup with Summer by reflecting on their relationship the way most-people do: completely out of order. Tom’s memory is understandably fractured and the film jumps back and forth to reflect this; we see them break up, then we see them meet, then we see them falling apart, then we see them falling in love. It’s a genuinely interesting take on the romantic-comedy genre (although I’m apprehensive about designating this film a ‘romantic-comedy’; they’re not usually this truthful). Webb deftly handles the film’s non-linear narrative (from a script by newcomers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) far better than any first-timer has the right to. His history in music-video direction is glaringly apparent, with quite a few gorgeous segues involving an Anything Goes-esque musical number and a hilarious tribute to French cinema. I wish I could elaborate, but you really need to see these beautiful little elements for yourself.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt cements his position as possibly the best actor working under the age of 30 with this film. Who would have thought the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun would go on to have one of the most interesting careers in Hollywood. He’s delivered stunning work in smaller flicks like Brick, Mysterious Skin and The Lookout, and even managed to be the best thing in GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra (although there wasn’t really much competition there). But in (500) Days of Summer, he is really something else. As a graduate-architect slumming it as a greeting-card writer, Gordon-Levitt’s Tom is a heartbroken boy on the verge of manhood; as close to a modern-day Benjamin Braddock we’ve seen this decade. Performances as subtle and real as this rarely get Academy Award recognition; Gordon-Levitt will have to suffice being the object of affection for every Gen Y girl for the rest of the year.
(500) Days of Summer feels fresh and unique without being too cute. It’s a tightrope walk trying to avoid being either overly-quirky or overly-conventional. Compared to say Juno (a film I also loved, although not quite as much), the pop-cultural references littered in (500) feel organic and not a desperate grab for indie-credibility. Band names such as The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian are thrown around by our not-so-star-crossed lovers because this music is a part of their relationship, just like the movies they watch and the conversations they share. If you disagree with this sentiment, try and listen to a song you used to enjoy with an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend and watch the memories flood back. We live in an age where our relationships are tied to pop-culture; sometimes even consumed by it. I sense that (500) Days of Summer will soon become a very popular date movie; eventually there will be just as many people who can’t bring themselves to watch it because it reminds them of someone they used to love.
The emotional impact of (500) Days of Summer is devastating. Although I (some would say unusually) avoided tearing up, my girlfriend was a weeping wreck for the final fifteen minutes, and for even some of the drive home. For all its quirkiness and hilarity, it is as emotionally truthful as movies get. It is the kind of film that could tear lesser couples apart and make other couples even closer. It could inspire marital separations as much it could spur marriage proposals. Overreactions? I don’t think so. While no movie could ever make you love or stop you from loving someone, (500) Days of Summer accurately portrays what each of these experiences are like. It’s a risky film, and perhaps an even riskier film to take a date to see. But if it teaches us anything, sometimes the biggest risks are the most worthwhile.