Movie Review: 500 Days of Summer (2009)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Perhaps what I appreciate most about 500 Days of Summer is that it doesn’t try too hard, which it very easily could have considering its fractured style of story-telling. As a result, it won’t be looked at as quirky or even indie as much as it will simply be referred to as a good film. First time feature director Marc Webb has chosen a witty and down-to-earth romantic dramedy as his debut and he does it without stereotypes or catchphrases, and as a result it earns my respect.

The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom and Zooey Deschanel as Summer. Tom dreams of being an architect, but is stuck writing for a greeting card company, which does little for his career but makes good use of his belief in true love, a belief that comes into play as Summer is hired as a secretary. However, Summer’s outlook on life couldn’t be any further from Tom’s. She is more of a live-in-the-moment kind of girl and the idea of settling down just isn’t in the cards. Of course, this doesn’t stop the two from forming a 500 day relationship that ends with Summer breaking up with Tom followed by Tom’s efforts to get her back. The best part, I can tell you all of this and not spoil a single moment of the film… Like I said, unconventional.

From the outset, we are told 500 Days of Summer is “not a love story” as it is pieced together using a variety of the 500 days of Tom and Summer’s relationship showing you when and where things went wrong and never in linear order, but don’t assume there isn’t a method to the madness. Comedic blends into dramatic which blends into heartache as all the courtship trappings are on display and anyone that has ever been in a relationship is likely to find a connection.

As soon as the film began my first concern was the non-linear storytelling would be used to such an extent it would become annoying and gimmicky. Fortunately, Webb has whittled this feature down to a compact 95 minutes making sure the audience is concentrated on what is going on in the story and not feeling interrupted by the next bit of time travel, but I really think another 5-10 minutes and it would have unraveled. Luckily, solid editing, acting and directing keeps this one moving at a brisk pace all while dealing with the problems everyone faces and does it with characters we can relate to.

Neither Joseph Gordon-Levitt nor Zooey Deschanel would be considered A-list actors, but there is no denying they are two well-liked (and possibly adored) actors by the movie-going community. I would even go so far as to say those that watch these two on a regular basis will find themselves cheering for both sides in this story, even though your heart leans more toward Tom and his plight. But the great thing is you aren’t rooting against either side.

Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of a better pair to pull this story off as they both bring a level of humanity to the film grounding it in reality. Deschanel’s unique look is definitely not the sultry female Hollywood most often falls for, but when she’s in a film your attention immediately goes to her wide eyes and delicate voice. So much so, she even made Jim Carrey’s Yes Man a decent watch last year. And while Gordon-Levitt isn’t an A-lister (yet), he is on the cusp, and the best thing about him is he has done it without sucking at Hollywood’s teet in an effort to get a leg up.

Levitt may be starring as the Cobra Commander in the upcoming Paramount toy commercial G.I. Joe, but it will be films such as the 2005 cult favorite Brick, Kimberley Peirce’s Stop-Loss and 500 Days of Summer that will keep his career kicking, and people are taking notice. Next up for Levitt is a role in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, while he recently finished filming Hesher with Natalie Portman. 500 Days of Summer looks to be the jumping-off point in what is likely to be a major career and a well deserved on at that.

If I were to find fault in this film they would be a few nitpicks that keep it from being a stand-up-and-applaud kind of film, but that isn’t to say it isn’t worthy of praise. We need more films like 500 Days of Summer and we need more stars like Deschanel and Levitt. Without relying on typical romantic comedy scenarios, 500 Days is a film that comes off as effortless. A lot of work must have gone into bouncing the story of Tom and Summer around while making sure it never derailed, but you can’t tell. Whether we are watching Tom suffer through his dead-end job or singing with animated song birds, it is all engaging, entertaining and original — three descriptors rarely used with movies nowadays.

GRADE: B+

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