Review: 500 Days of Summer

Tom has found "the one", the girl he's destined to be with for the rest of his life, he's found Summer. Unfortunately Summer doesn't believe in either destiny or long term relationships. 500 Days of Summer chronicles their time together, but as the opening narration warns, this is not a love story (actually it is, just not a typical love story). 500 Days of Summer is an emotionally resonant portrayal of a couple with mismatched expectations that manages to stay light-hearted while dealing with the worst part of love gone wrong.

Rated: 4 / 5

500 Days of Summer follows the relationship of Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel. Tom believes he is destined to find the woman of his dreams. His soul mate. When he meets Summer he's positive destiny has revealed its hand. Unfortunately, Summer has a different philosophy. She's looking for someone to have some fun with, not a serious long term relationship. What follows is a recounting of the 500 days of Summer in Tom's life.

One of the treats of this movie was the blending of storytelling and cinemagraphic craft. The story is not told on a linear timeline. We jump back and forth, seeing the relationship's beginning and end in parallel. The transitions are queued with a "day odometer" as well as some other clever transitional techniques. There's also some strategic narration, a dance number, and the occasional fancy effect. In concert these serve to keep the emotional tone of the movie quite light; amazing considering this is the story of a relationship that didn't work.

Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel give great performances, but this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's movie to make or break and he comes through. I also liked the performances of Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler as Tom's friends. Chloe Moretz's performance as the precocious sister/advisor Rachel was quite enjoyable though her character was far too 12 going on 30.

The most interesting storytelling decision of director Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber was keeping Summer's true feelings and motives a mystery. The story is told from Tom's point of view. We get a few background details of Summer from an omniscient point of view, but this movie is about Tom's feelings and experience. This is his perspective, his context.

500 Days of Summer store scene

Tom isn't aggressive about getting what he wants, both in life and love. He's an architect by training sidetracked into working for a greeting card company and though he's smitten with Summer he's shy about approaching her. Summer sees something in Tom, too. They begin hanging out and progress to something more intimate. But is it friends-with-benefits or the start of something longer term? We already know the ending, but not the resolution of Tom's emotional story arc. Or Summer's, and she's changed by the relationship, too.

Throughout the film I wondered if Summer was self-centered or simply utterly honest about what she wanted from the relationship. Not as easy to determine as it might seem since we're seeing Summer through the lens of Tom's roller-coaster emotions. We see Tom perceiving Summer as a bitch, but is she really? Though we don't know Summer's inner thoughts and feelings we know Tom has reality issues. He's so smitten by Summer, and certain she's "the one", that he's trying very hard to be the person he thinks Summer wants, not the person he really is. Though Summer isn't perfect, in the end I didn't think she was a bitch. Except, there's this disclaimer at the beginning of the film:

Screen 1: Note: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Screen 2: Especially you Jenny Beckman.

Screen 3: Bitch

Jenny Beckman is apparently a pseudonym for the real person who inspired this story. Does this imply that Summer is also a bitch, or was this just something funny they couldn't resist throwing in? I don't know. In some ways it's irrelevant. It was the exploration of failure and subsequent moving on, told in a lighthearted style, that made 500 Days of Summer both interesting and enjoyable.

Speaking of disclaimers, one of my own. If I see this movie again I may well change my mind. It strikes me as the kind of movie that could be a different experience on second viewing.

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