500 Days of Summer

Within the intersecting area of the Venn diagram consisting of movies I like and movies my wife likes live a very small number of genres largely made up of romantic comedies and, for lack of a better description, heist movies.  In general this works out since neither of us is particularly abashed of watching a DVD alone, or even of the occasional solo trip to the movie theater. It can, however, get a little dull to watch the same few plots play out with only mildly entertaining twists time after time.

Enter 500 Days of Summer:

500 Days of Summer

Now, before we get carried away let’s set the parameters on this one. It’s a romantic comedy. Not necessarily a traditional one, and not one where all loose ends get tied up but a romantic comedy nonetheless.  So what sets it apart from the 25,000 other romantic comedies released each year? It’s smart, well-done and includes a musical dance number1.

500 Days of Summer hooked me immediately with the image of the happy couple sitting on a park bench, holding hands, with a zoom to a shiny engagement ring. The rub? This was only Day 4732. Our immediate reaction to this number is “uh-oh, this movie doesn’t end with them together.  The narrative then proceeds to jump around in its chronology skipping between Good Days and Bad Days as we piece together the love story.  Such antics could be dismissed as a quirky device to make a standard plot a little more interesting. Except for the opening shot, an announcement by a narrator and perhaps even the title of the film letting us in on the secret that “this is not a love story.”

So, we’re left to figure out how it falls apart and what makes the story interesting between days 1 and 500. I won’t give the ending away any more than the director does at the outset of the film. The boy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets the girl (Zooey Deschanel) while working at an L.A. based greeting card company. He believes in true love3, based largely on a misreading of The Graduate in early adolescence. She believes in living day-to-day and not putting labels on things. Inevitably, the boy falls in love and the girl feels hemmed in. This isn’t new territory by any means.

Ultimately for me this movie succeeds on a visceral level. The movie just seems to get everything right. For much of the story our leads are cardboard cutouts, but they are likable cutouts. The bit players complement the film perfectly, including the karaoke-mad co-worker and the Nietzsche-quoting 12 year-old sister. And every time you want to dismiss the wardrobe as silly hipster posturing, Deschanel or Gordon-Levitt appear on screen dressed not as irreverent youth but as young professionals paying homage the the Hollywood greats that still haunt the streets they walk.

The movie had me interested from the outset, but the point at which I declared, finally, “I like this movie” was during the musical number about halfway through. The film perfectly balances the strum und drang4 that plagues single folk with the unselfconscious joy of being in love. We’re in this for a good time and to tell a story. And really, there’s not much else you can ask of a movie5. The couple doesn’t end up together, all loose ends are not tied up. But by the end of the film you feel that the boy-meets-girl story had a good run and even though things didn’t quite work out as planned it may just be possible to survive love and life in Tinseltown.

1 And you can ask my wife I DO NOT like musicals, but in this movie? I works.
2 or thereabouts, I didn’t take notes so I’m doing this from a week-old memory of viewing the film
3 and the movie makes adequate hay from the irony of this and the way that he trivializes it in his profession
4 or, in the parlance of our times, emo
5 especially in this genre

10 Responses to “500 Days of Summer”

  1. Tiffanie Says:

    adding it to the netflix queue now! Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Kristin Says:

    For your further viewing pleasure:

    I find this immensely pleasing.

  3. Walter Says:

    Well, you can always ask other things of a film. This film’s soundtrack never stops. Most of the music is enjoyable, if in a deliberately ‘look-at-me-i’m-arty’ way, but it is just relentless and works to the detriment of other filmic elements: plot, character, and general mise en scene. There are certain places where if the music would have just stopped for a minute, the film could have breathed, and its pathos– nicely developed onscreen through a grey/brown colorscheme and beautiful shots of LA– would have settled more effectively on viewers and lingered after the closing credits. I think this a current problem with many independent films; it bugs me. Wes Anderson seems to make it work…

    Complaining aside, I enjoyed it. I’d watch ZD do most anything. I wish the soundtrack included her stuff– she’s grand. The musical number was a treat. I think the scenes in the office could have been done funnier to reflect/show rather than tell us the cultural criticism. But there I go complaining again… You guys should watch some romantic comedies from the 30s-50s (Grant, Lemmon, Hepburn, etc.) for the witticisms. They could off the one-liners back then.

  4. Walter Says:

    Ah… Apparently Marc Webb was a music video director before his feature debut with 500 Days.

  5. teambuildingexercise99 Says:

    i loved the movie- the music didn’t get to me as much as walter. the only thing i would have changed was the name of the girl he meets at the end. (really?!?) but yeah, i share the love of zooey. if you all haven’t heard the “she & him” album, go out and get it/download it immediately. so charming. and this is a weird recommendation as i rarely watch things on the sci fi channel, but they did a re-telling of the wizard of oz about a year ago called tin man starring zd that was pretty cool. and k, thanks for posting the youtube video- that was fun! i found a related video on that page that’s another marc webb short where zooey and joseph gordon-levitt are in character as sid and nancy. no catchy musical numbers, but still pretty entertaining. in any case, glad you both liked the movie! that makes 4 of us. :)

  6. Conan Says:

    I think I pay less attention to both soundtrack and score than many do when evaluating a film. Though said elements are what make the Kill Bill series work for me.

    Walter – glad to hear you admit to enjoying it. But I understand the impulse to dislike it. It walks that fine line between charming/annoying at several points.

    C – yes, we own she & him (huge m. ward fans here at sidewhites inc.) and I have checked out twice but never gotten around to watching Tin Man. Maybe third time is the charm.

  7. Walter Says:

    Hmm… Do I have a problem admitting to enjoying films? I don’t think it’s so much that as that I really enjoy being critical. I derive great pleasure from thinking about the myriad parts of a film’s whole– from production elements to plot. This means I rarely declare a film wholly good or bad, but rather certain elements to be enjoyable or less so. (This is also why I can watch any Bergman film simply for the pleasure of the images and care less about the stories.) So anyhow, I stand by my initial comments (though I’ve been known to say wildly different things on different days…), but I didn’t realize we were trying to get me to admit to something here.

  8. Conan Says:

    Nah, not trying to get you to admit anything. I just enjoyed that you seemed to like the film in spite of yourself. Thought I’d bust balls on that front. Much like you enjoy being critical, I enjoy busting balls. That is all.

  9. Kristin Says:

    I love the old rom-com’s, Walt. (like the nickname?) I distinctly remember my 11th birthday party. It was a sleepover and for the entertainment I forced everyone to watch “Bringing Up Baby.” Yes, that is where I am coming from. That is my history. Do with it what you will…

  10. teambuildingexercise99 Says:

    you all are funny. :)

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