(500) Days of Summer (2009) dir. Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
By Alan Bacchus
While (500) Days of Summer threatened to become another hopelessly romantic and disposable Sundance whimsy comedy, Marc Webb’s film emerges victorious, rising above other recent hipster crap-outs like “Adventureland” and “Away We Go”. There’s nothing particularly original, playing like a Woody Allen picture told with Cameron Crowe’s pop culture sensibility, but it’s a combination which rings out all the blinding joy and heartbreaking tragedy of love with a lingering poignancy which stays with you for a while.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom, a twenty-something greeting card writer and a closeted architect. Summer is the new admin assistant in his office. The omniscient narrator tells us the story of Tom’s 500 day rollercoaster ride of infatuation with Summer. In sometimes random order, we see all the stages of courtship from the silly attempts to get her attention to the blockhead advice from his single buddies, and all the insecurity of making the first move. The relationship stage is fanciful, impossibly romantic and pure bliss, which makes the break-up that much more tragic.
We see everything from the deep internal point of view of Tom – however clouded. At times his joy is expressed through a spontaneous dance sequence in the streets, other times through the movies he’s watching, or the songs he’s listening too. Smartly Webb makes Summer as enigmatic to us as she seems to Tom. There are few other name actresses at the right age who naturally inhabit the qualities of Summer like Zooey Deschanel. Her whole career has been built on her unique flighty personality and hypnotizing wide-eyed naiveté. Webb embellishes these qualities making Summer an enigmatic wandering soul – a puzzle Tom and the audience try to solve. We perhaps sense where things might go, when she tells Tom outright that she doesn’t believe in true love. Either Tom will succeed in changing her view or he’ll crash and burn.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, since his lead role in “Brick”, has perched himself on the edge of major stardom. His uncanny resemblance to Heath Ledger hopefully doesn’t curse him, but Levitt’s role in this film as well as the indie festival release “Uncertainty” show off a different kind of romantic side. Levitt exposes Tom’s vulnerability with compassion and grace. Webb reverses our expectations of the malecentric point of view – not the beastly male chauvinistic uber-male view but a literary romantic protagonist. Levitt fits it like a glove.
It's kind of a predictable path, but having been put so deep into Tom’s pain and sorrow, when the finale arrives it's as fresh and exciting as if being in his shoes.
There’s a cleverness, which at times feels overly tooled. The visual device of Tom’s architecture drawing is overemphasized as are those overused indie-titles of “Juno” and “Away We Go.” Webb saves us from the tender acoustic renditions of "Juno", or "Garden State". It’s all recognizable pop music you’d find in your own I-Pod – from the Smiths to Wolfmother.
“The Graduate” is a recurring reference. Aspiring to emulate that great film is a tall order, and so under a lesser film it would be easy pickings for critics to pounce on. Referencing, let alone using actual footage of a (better) film one aspires to be, is a no-no. But in the self-aware pop cultural world we live in today we have to accept this. In "(500) Days of Summer" it's a consistent device which projects Tom’s mood and the reference point of his mind. So I’ll let that one slide. If it were used in “Away We Go” I’d be all over it.
'(500) Days of Summer' is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment