Review: (500) Days of Summer

“(500) Days of Summer” informs us right away that it’s a boy meets girl story, not a love story. Interesting, considering our preconditioning for the romantic comedies of happily ever after, or in this case, the indie romantic comedy with “a way of working out” that has been done so many times already that “indie” is more a style than a way to distinguish the production value of a film. 

But avoid labeling itself all it wants (as its main characters Tom and Summer try and do), “Summer” is a love story. There might be more to it than that, but it’s a story about love and how we romanticize it versus how it really is, regardless of its disclaimer. 

It’s a bold script from first-time scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber that pits RomCom convention against the harsh realities of dating. As such, it’s bound to appeal to both the chick flick crowd and indie-lovers — it will get audiences thinking more perceptively about love, while still appealing to the pleasures of escapist movie-theater romance.

Like eight of the last ten indie love stores you’ve seen, “Summer” starts with a break-up, only it backtracks to the beginning of the relationship and tells the story from the beginning (while of course jumping back to the time of the break-up). Confused? Conveniently a counter helps us keep track of time in the film, showing us how many days into the 500 we are at all times. 

Anyway, Tom is a hopeless romantic greeting-card writer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“3rd Rock from the Sun” child star and Heath Ledger look-alike) who meets a girl, Summer (big-blue-eyed rising star Zooey Deschanel). He believes he’s found destiny — she doesn’t want anything serious.

The two hit it off with their playful personalities and while Tom falls hopelessly in love with her, she doesn’t seem to budge. We start to hate on Summer a little bit for not prescribing to this fated romance we’ve built up in our heads because we’re all sucker’s for that kind of a love story, but that’s where “Summer” gets smart on us.

Directed by Marc Webb, who’s done music videos with Green Day, 3 Doors Down and Jesse McCartney, “Summer” does take on this whimsical quality that very much appeals to a younger generation. At the same time, he brings us realism when the movie is supposed to relate to us the most (in the bars, at the office) and that artsy quality when the writing calls for something a bit more non-traditional. He handles the contrast well, as does Gordon- Levitt, who is either playing a depressed pessimist or a head-over-heels optimist. Deschanel is also terrific, looking the part of this elusive girl with classic good looks and emphasizing her quirks as well her brutal honesty. If she can break her indie typecast, Deschanel will become one of the finer actresses of her generation.

As told by the film’s slightly obnoxious and inconsistently used narrator, “this is not a love story” ends up serving to prep us for the film’s divergence from formula. For those that want happily ever after, it tempers this expectation, pleading with us by basically saying “please don’t get get mad if the ending isn’t the magical song and dance number you were hoping for.” 

But it ends up being pretty clear what “Summer” is trying to do. It serves as the writers’ own discovery of what exactly love is, how they worked out and reconciled the pain and heartbreak — love’s truths — with this romanticized idealizing of love. Summer becomes not this cold person who is having her way with Tom because he’s the one in love, but someone with simply a different understanding of love, who comes from a different place mentally/emotionally when it comes to relationships.

“Summer” is a great film because it combines all the cheesy energy that we love about romantic comedies with this strong sense of reality. Although the reality too can become a bit much at times, “Summer” is a film that has finally found a way to appease the masses while breaking the formula that has kept the boy meets girl story on a ball and chain for decades. It’s not perfect, but what a feat that is.

Released: 17 July 2009 (limited)


  1. Jenni Hanley says:

    I really like your comment about Summer: it’s not that she’s cold (which is easily the viewer’s first thought), but that she just has a different view of love. She is capable of love—she was never trying to hurt him.

    You have to appreciate Summer for prescribing to her own view of love, though she did lead Tom on in the end when she had found that other guy.

    It’s so interesting that this movie started off with a disclaimer of sorts. “You will not like this movie” (basically). But why? Because there’s not a traditionally “happy” ending? They each find love, or so you are led to believe … just not with each other.

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