Kyle does (500) Days of Summer

500“You weren’t wrong, Tom. You were just wrong about me.”

The Scoop: 2009 PG-13, directed by Marc Webb and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Clark Gregg

Tagline: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.

Summary Capsule: A guy’s dream girl turns out to be a nightmare because she just wants sex and fun while he wants more (it’s much more plausible than it sounds)

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Kyle’s Rating: Not the best film of 2009, but possibly the most important (for me!)

Kyle’s Review: (500) Days of Summer is a typical romantic comedy in only one way: as I watched it, and as I wandered the streets after watching it, I identified utterly with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and wondered why I similarly could never hold on to the Summers I encountered in my own life. Though I must also admit that I saw (500) Days three different times with three different girls, so perhaps I have a little personal growth to do before I achieve Tom’s own level of romantic hopelessness.

I mention my own personal angst because this film, with its chronologically-fractured narrative and occasionally vague characters (more on this later), essentially holds up a mirror to the audience like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel at various points. Though the film proceeds without your input, at least in your subconscious commentary you’ll be thinking how you would have handled things. The expertly-handled jumping around within the (500) Days of Summer (Zooey Deschanel) being in Tom’s life distracts you during the running time, but don’t be surprised if you sit through the whole of the end credits in a thinker’s pose, mapping yourself onto either Tom or Summer as you sift through your own jumble of romantic memories. Sitting through such good tunes, though, you’ll certainly be reminiscing with a smile on your face.

This is no experimental indie film, nor some kind of confusing student film. (500) Days of Summer, for all its time jumps and character quirks, is a solid comedic film that is easy to follow and entertaining for all. Though Woody Allen’s fading star power (surely nonexistent among the young & hip intended audience) meant no critic bothered to mention it, (500) Days is a direct cinematic descendent of Allen’s Annie Hall, if not a minor west coast remake. Both films feature a likable, neurotically introspective male lead simultaneously enchanted and mystified by his titular love interest, whom he absolutely adores initially, grows to abhor as things grow bad, then finally crusades to win back.

Most important, both films feature central characters who are smart and thoughtful. It’s an important distinction: consider the usual rom-com characters who are interesting enough to believably attract a complimentary partner, but seem to lack anything approaching normal hobbies or interests. Take away the one or two defining quirks that establish quick characterization but don’t speak to any further aesthetic tastes (recent examples in random Paul Rudd films include psychotic devotions to bands like Rush, allegiance to live-action fantasy-play, and action figure collecting) and you have people who are mostly harmless but probably consider sitting around watching television to be ‘experiencing culture.’ By (perhaps elitist) contrast, Tom and Summer are not only interested in films but also music, books, and the sorts of random topics Seinfeld took to such amusing extremes. These are thoughtful people, which makes it all the more painful for knowing how much thought Tom is bringing to his predicament and how much thought Summer seems to be expending on anything else.

I mentioned there being some vague characterizations, and largely that observation centers upon Summer. Through occasional documentary-style interviewing and one fantastic musical number, we get to know Tom’s internal monologue fairly well; combined with the fine acting of Gordon-Levitt and Tom becomes fully-rendered very quickly so we understand for almost all of the film why he does what he does. Summer is the mystifying one, surely on purpose. I read but could not confirm a reviewer’s comment that he had read an early version of the script where Summer’s decisions were more logical and explained, making that version of the character much more likable and easier to understand. I have to admit I prefer this final version, so true to herself and possessed of a self that she finds it difficult to share. I’ve been in Tom’s shoes more often than I’d like, and here is that rare movie that acknowledges that relationships don’t end cleanly and tend to leave at least one person with more questions than answers. Summer does what she will to feel safe and eventually to feel loved, and Tom’s inability to fully understand what she wants or how she wants it is why there is a finite number in the film title.

Roger Ebert, as always, put it best in his own review when he posed a rhetorical question of Tom: “Can he accept that she simply likes him for now, not for forever?” We are conditioned with our romantic comedies that it’s the woman that wants the forever, and the man who must be convinced. Here we have Summer happy just to find a good time, and Tom who ruins it by looking ahead. The narrator warns us in the opening minutes of the film that this is “not a love story;” being forewarned allows us to observe how much it is our preoccupations and not our actions that trip us up more often than not. The film leaves us to decide just how much destiny and love there is in the world; it’s no spoiler to say that while both characters end up in different places, they’re a lot closer in sensibilities than when they began. Perhaps that all you can ask of a relationship, or perhaps David Bowie was quite right when he sang “I don’t believe in modern love.”

Every movie needs a pillow fight scene

Every movie needs a pillow fight scene

Intermission!

  • The heavy emphasis on the color blue in the film’s look is purposeful, to bring out Deschanel’s eyes
  • Gordon-Levitt wears lots of music tee-shirts when he’s not in work clothes: Joy Division shirts for ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ and The Clash’s ‘London Calling’
  • Both Tom and Summer’s childhood rooms share a common item: Morissey’s debut album, ‘Viva Hate’

Groovy Quotes

Tom: What happens when you fall in love?
Summer: You don’t really believe in that, do you?
Tom: It’s love, it’s not Santa Claus.

Tom: People don’t realize this, but loneliness is underrated.

Summer: We’ve been like Sid and Nancy for months now.
Tom: Summer, Sid stabbed Nancy. Seven times with a kitchen knife. I mean, we have some disagreements but I hardly think I’m Sid Vicious.
Summer: No, no. I’m Sid.
Tom: Oh, so I’m Nancy?

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Kyle does 2009 in Review « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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