Thursday, August 13, 2009

500 Days of Summer (****)

Directed by Marc Webb


Within Marc Webb's film, 500 Days of Summer, I experienced a mixture of emotions--but none of them were negative. Traveling through the highs and lows of two twenty-somethings treading through what may or may not be love, the film always teeters on that ledge that balances between earnest emotion and hipster, goofball convolution. Luckily for all of us, Summer pulls of its high-wire act superbly.

The story follows Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a loyal employee at a greeting card company, who has strong belief in romantic love and "the one". He's convinced that he's met "the one" when he sees Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), his boss' new assistant. She has a perky style, beautiful blue eyes, and (most importantly) she's a fan of the Smiths. As they discuss their comparative tastes in all things pop culture, Tom is more and more enraptured with Summer, and eventually admits his infatuation drunkenly at a karaoke party.

What follows is not something Tom expects, but something he finds exciting. Summer admits early in their relationship that she is not searching for anything long-term or serious, and very bluntly states that there is no such thing as love. At their young, fruitful age, she feels, they should be trying to have as much fun as they can, and tying yourself down to one specific person is actually stunting your progression. Tom immediately thinks this idea is sophomoric, but he could care less as long as he gets to be around Summer.

Their relationship grows steadily, but even as they get closer and closer, Summer is always aware to keep a safe distance, maintaining that what they have is no more than a friendship. Tom gets frustrated, and as the months go by, the relationship trudges along, emotions begin to boil, and the romance starts to stale. Before long, Summer decides to leave Tom, and all Tom can think of is how to win her back. Using his friend and co-worker McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend), and his wiser-than-her-years little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz), he plots on the best way to win her over once again.

I realize now, that I've done the movie a disservice by explaining the plot chronologically, because part of the charm of this film is its defiant middle-finger in the direction of linear storytelling. It jumps back, it jumps forward. We see them giggling during blooming romance, and then we cut to see them preoccupied with the frustration of waning love moments later. Like a modern day Annie Hall, the film utilizes flashbacks and flashforwards to best show how the relationship between Tom and Summer both succeeded and failed.

I make the comparison to Annie Hall because both films possessed a similar theme: love is relative, and love lost is not always love tarnished. 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was another film which showcased this beautifully. Unlike Eternal Sunshine and Annie Hall, though, 500 Days possesses a invigorating and sublime attitude, and contains such unbelievable sunniness, it's almost impossible to not keep a smile on your face. Few films can mix an entire sequence devoted to Belle & Sebastian's "The Boy with the Arab Strap" with a choreographed dance number with Hall & Oats' "You Make My Dreams Come True" and live to tell about it.

At twenty-eight years old, it seems like Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been around forever, with success as a child actor in Angels In The Outfield and television's 3rd Rock From The Sun. He has recently begun to establish himself as a serious actor, like in 2004's Mysterious Skin and 2007's brilliantly underrated The Lookout. In 500 Days, he no longer has to mope, and is given the opportunity to be wistful and charming, and his exuberance holds the soul of the entire film. He never overstates his big moments, and always delivers the brilliant dialogue (by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber) with ease.

One of the main criticisms of the film has been the screenplay's inability to draw out the character of Summer into anything more than a Smiths-loving hipster who adores Ringo Starr. Sure, I can understand how some can see Summer as a cipher who floats in a strange place above the film's otherwise sophisticated character development, but I believe Deschanel plays Summer perfectly. She creates Summer as a blank canvas on which Tom hopes to paint his masterpiece (in fact, there is a scene where Tom actually draws on her, literally). We sometimes try to push our own ideals about romance onto someone, in hope that they will become the person from our dreams. Note to readers: this never works.

The film is directed by Marc Webb, and it is his first film. It's quite a good one. I know 500 Days of Summer will surely become lumped into the "offbeat" category, in the fashion of other films like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. It's rather convenient analysis, and much easier than saying exactly what it is: an exceptional and intelligent romantic comedy. In other words, it's something Hollywood studios think audiences hate. The film has built strongly over the last few weeks with word-of-mouth, further proving that audiences are not nearly as stupid as the studio heads seem to think we are. Then again, G.I. Joe was the #1 movie this weekend, but I'll try and put that in the back of my mind.

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