500 Days of Summer will be one of the top romantic movies for years to come. While it might not be starting off with the same buzz as popular romantic comedies like Amélie, Hitch, or The 40 Year Old Virgin, it seems more likely to become a well-referenced portrait of romance for young people during this era, much like Reality Bites and Singles were for Generation X in the 1990s.
While other recent films like Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep have also used creative means like humorous, artistic dreams to portray modern romance, 500 Days of Summer seems more accessible to both independent film lovers and mainstream audiences. So what’s so great about the movie?
Some viewers will call it a gimmick, but the film’s non-linear storytelling fits the subject matter well of what it’s like to fall in love, go through a bad break-up, and then reflect scatter shot back on the experience. We see the film through the jumbled memories of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) while working for a greeting card company. He is quickly smitten and falls deeply in love with her. Early on she tells him she doesn’t believe in love, and he challenges her to think such a tangible thing exists. We then get to see how this dynamic works itself out over the course of their time together.
The 500 days referenced in the movie’s title refers to the length of Tom’s relationship with Summer, and as each important moment in their relationship is introduced, we are told what day it is. Sometimes we see a glimpse of the relationship on the rocks, and then skip back to an earlier time when Tom and Summer’s interactions were fresh and alive with a youthful passion. Sometimes we see what seems to be an unimportant detail, that later makes sense in the greater context of their entire relationship. This coherence takes careful direction, and one of the most clever and effective scenes in the movie is a split screen where we see Tom’s expectations of what will happen at a party while simultaneously watching the reality of what actually happened.
If this sounds abrasive, it’s not. Almost always these cinematic departures from the norms of romantic comedies enhance our appreciation of the romance between Tom and Summer and draw us into the universality of what these kinds of passionate, youthful relationships feel like. If you thought The Break-Up took pains to underscore the suffering of a relationship dissolving, you will be impressed by how much more effectively and economically 500 Days of Summer accomplishes this task and leave us with a greater understanding of how romantic failures help us learn more about ourselves and learn how to do better the next time around.
So is 500 Days of Summer a perfect movie? Definitely not, but it’s pretty darn good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are charismatic, convincing, and charming in rather layered lead roles. The supporting characters in the movie, however, are extremely lame. Tom has two male friends who really just seem like they are there to make jokes and fill time, and there is also a wise-cracking younger sister who provides him with the most helpful advice. The sister character is particularly lame, and really is utterly unconvincing. Luckily for us, these bothersome characters only show up occasionally and are not enough to sink the actors driving the movie.
Despite these relatively minor flaws, 500 Days of Summer is a great movie and worth seeing. Whether or not the film will launch its stars to higher-profile roles is still not clear, but it’s sure to be appreciated for a long time as a new classic in the rather worn and exhausted romantic comedy genre.