(500) Days of Summer (2009)

1 Sep

People this attractive shouldn't be allowed to be together. It ruins the gene pool for the rest of us.

My inner cynic thought I would hate “(500) Days of Summer.” I don’t like many romantic movies, much less romantic comedies. I get tired of the drooling fanboy worship of Zooey Deschanel (who is a fine actress, but come on!). The movie seemed overly hipster-y and slightly twee. My inner cynic was, however, wrong.

Mini-diversion here: The main reason I don’t like many romantic comedies is that they are often neither funny nor really romantic, and they are almost always trite, overdone, cliched and tired. I love romance, real romance, and I like comedies (though I can be a bit unforgiving of overly stupid humor). It’s just putting the two together that seems to be the problem. And so the best thing about “(500) Days of Summer” is that it avoids the typical pitfalls of the genre and manages to be genuinely funny, truly romantic and refreshingly different, if not totally original.

“(500) Days of Summer” tells of the relationship between Tom and Summer, she of the 500 days. The story is wisely broken up into non-chronological snippets, punctuated by old-fashioned title cards letting us know which day is being shown. Tom and Summer come from polar philosophies regarding love: He believes he will know when he meets “The One,” and he believes that nothing else but meeting and being with “The One” matters much. She doesn’t believe in love, only in pursuing what she wants with no labels, and no strings, attached. He believes he can teach her to love. She believes he won’t. Who ends up being right and who ends up being wrong is the point of the journey.

Because the film focuses on the small moments in a relationship, “(500) Days of Summer” is mercifully free of the over-the-top plot devices typical of the genre.  Tom and Summer feel like real people. They have real hang-ups, not gargantuan neuroses. The romantic gestures are small and maybe a little silly, but more emotional than any 100-rose bouquet or grand speech could ever be. By virtue of keeping the story simple, the romance tender, but real, and the problems believable, this film becomes a rare thing: An honest love story.

Ugh. I'll admit it. The record store sequences did make me cringe a little.

The movie’s smart styling keeps all this average boy-meets-girl rigamarole from feeling musty. The use of a few well-timed fantasy sequences, smart editing and clever visual storytelling elevates “(500) Days of Summer” into new territory, resulting in a charming and (my inner cynic is cringing) effervescent movie. It really is a well-designed, cohesive film from start to finish from director Marc Webb. While I could quibble with a few of the aesthetic choices (I wasn’t a huge fan of the voice-over narrating), at least there were stylistic decisions made. In a genre that’s crowded with paint-by-number entries, the unconventional styling of this movie makes it truly stand out.

A great deal of the film’s charm comes from its leads. Despite my reluctance to buy into the Zooey Deschanel thing, she is good in her role here, mainly because she gets to be a little something other than the cute, quirky, sunshiny girl she typically plays. She manages to navigate some tough waters with her character without completely losing the audience, which is evidence of her talent. The real find here, though, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’d been quietly turning heads on the indie scene for a while before vaulting to leading man territory in this role, and he really nails it. Gordon-Levitt’s Tom wears his emotions on his sleeve for the audience while trying to hide them from Summer. It’s a crazy little balancing act, and he manages wonderfully. We’re on his side from the beginning, without knowing much of his story, or who he is, or what really happened, and that’s all down to his considerable charisma.

The supporting cast is lovely as well, with Chloe Moretz (yes, Hit Girl) especially standing out. Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler are great in their roles as Tom’s long-suffering friends, and Clark Gregg gets some choice funny moments as Tom’s boss, Vance.

Lest you start believing that I was lying about being cynical, I couldn’t quite give in and totally love this movie. Much of the early action requires us to fall in love with Summer at first sight, the way Tom does. The problem is that the story doesn’t give us much to go on, and what it does give us is just downright weird. As wonderful as Moretz is, her character is also a glaring implausibility in the otherwise believable story. And, inner cynic rejoice, a few of those hipstery touches are a bit hard to swallow.

But, at the end of a film, I mainly try to decide whether I enjoyed watching it. The quibbles I have, I’m sure I could pick at them and start poking at the plot and the characters more and more and more until the whole film started unraveling. I don’t want to. “(500) Days of Summer,” though not perfect, is a romantic comedy for people who want smarter romantic comedies. Its cleverness and realistic characters are miles beyond your latest Sandra Bullock vehicle, and the overall story is not one that has been overdone. This pleasant little movie defied my expectations, and sometimes, sometimes, my inner cynic just needs to simmer down. Three stars out of four.

“(500) Days of Summer”: Rated PG-13. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg and Minka Kelly. Directed by Marc Webb. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Cinematography by Eric Steelberg. Original music by Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen.

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2 Responses to “(500) Days of Summer (2009)”

  1. Nathan Marcello September 1, 2010 at 2:55 am #

    Yea, I really liked this movie. I tried really hard to hat it, but it was actually pretty good.

    • Rhanda September 2, 2010 at 3:36 am #

      It definitely won me over 🙂

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