Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Directed by Marc Webb
Running Time: 1:35
for sexual material and language.
Special guest review by Denis Blot of DVD-Dweeb.com
The old adage "there's plenty of fish in the sea" always seems to be said by at least one friend in the course of trying to help another overcome the detrimental pain of a break-up. The statement however, falls on deaf ears when one believes it is their soul-mate who has broken up with them and such is the case with Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in (500) Days of Summer. The film covers the 500 days during which Tom; meets, pursues, romances, gets dumped, and finally attempts to recover from the heartache his supposed soul-mate Summer (Zooey Deschanel) has inflicted. Films like Annie Hall, High Fidelity and The Break-Up have covered this ground before though (500) Days of Summer with its non-chronological narrative structure, fairy tale versus reality confrontations, and underlying theme of alienation, takes new aim at the subject matter.
The film essentially begins in the middle of the story as the audience witnesses the crushing effect the break-up has on Tom as we find him standing in his kitchen shattering plate after plate as his two best friends look on not sure of what to do, while with comedic lightening speed on bicycle arrives Tom's pre-teenaged kid sister who manages to calm him down with the mature wisdom of an old soul. From this point on the story will shift forward and backward in time using numerical day cues on the screen for reference, and the effect is rewarding yet problematic. The time shifts allow for drama, sentimentality, and comedy to intermingle so that even when tragedy happens we can be relieved knowing comedy cannot be far behind, moreover we become consumed in trying to piece together what went wrong with the relationship.
The dilemma with jumping about the timeline is that in the process it becomes difficult for one to truly care about the relationship because we see it and those involved only as fragments. We are introduced to Tom as a slightly pathetic loser and it is only over multiple scenes (and Gordon-Levitt's convincingly good acting) that we gain an appreciation of him as also being smart, caring, romantic, and an all around nice guy. Deschanel's character on the other hand, never gets fully realized, there is simply not enough dialog written in for Summer and not enough scenes of relationship building between her and Tom for one to understand why the break-up would leave Tom so distraught, nor why he seems so enraptured by her. Director Marc Webb does manage to somewhat compensate for this by providing repeating visual cues such as the clasping of hands, a secret kiss in the copy room, and close soft focus shot of Summer's enveloping blue-eyes and warm charming smile.
One of the more interesting aspects of (500) Days of Summer is an ongoing discussion of the possibility of a fairy tale romance in the concrete real world. The opening credits of the film has a narrator begin a story as if the film were a fairy tale introducing us to the two protagonists as children, Tom believing in finding one's true love and Summer thinking love impossible, thereby setting up a dynamic between the two that will continue throughout the film. The film visually evokes this confrontation by having quirky comedic fantasy elements (specifically tied to Tom's character) appear such as a dance number referencing Disney's Enchanted, or a split screen sequence that simultaneously shows what Tom was expecting to happen and what in reality actually does happen. While some of these elements work well within the context of the film, others fall short of humor and seem out of place as if added in solely to give the director something to experiment with.
The Graduate, Mike Nichols' film dealing with the 1960's generation and their feeling of alienation in a society that was still holding onto traditional values and expectations, is specifically referenced twice in (500) Days of Summer. The theme of alienation is also presented here although not as effectively or impactful as it was in The Graduate. Tom, who was trained to be an architect but works writing mundane greeting card sentiments, lives in a city whose skyline (he points out) could be beautiful if not for the commercial parking garages, and goes on a fun shopping excursion with Summer to the pre-fabricated world of IKEA, is in desperate need to have something of meaning in his life and it is Summer who he believes will give him that meaning. Yet even in their relationship Tom struggles to connect fully with Summer, his expectations never being completely realized. His need ultimately reveals itself in a rant before quitting the card company where he questions the necessity for people to say what they want to say by giving someone a card and why it seems so difficult or impossible to be open enough to say what you mean and feel. These sentiments are peppered throughout the film and certainly would have made for a more profound statement had more been done to illustrate the current state of modern society.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(500) Days of Summer is ambitious in its storytelling, and first time feature director Marc Weber has guts for tackling a project that could easily have become an emotionless bland exercise in editing. While the film does have its weaknesses and never meets its full potential, it is entertaining overall with just enough humor, romance, and intellectual depth for post-screening coffee and conversation.
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