(500) Days of Summer
As Jean-Luc Godard famously observed, “Every film should have a beginning, a middle and an end – but not necessarily in that order.”
This is a love story – or not, depending on who you believe and where you check out. The excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom, who writes greeting cards for a living. Adorable Zooey Deschanel is (wait for it) Summer, who gets a job at the same firm. With The Smiths in common – and having passed the karaoke test with flying colours – they both think it would be fun to hang out together.
The relationship is complicated, though, by Summer’s caution that she’s not looking for a boyfriend and she doesn’t believe in love. Tom sees things differently…
It sounds like a story you’ve seen and heard a hundred times before. But the filmmakers – first time director Marc Webb comes from pop videos; screenwriters Scott Neustadler and Michael Weber previously collaborated on The Pink Panther 2, of all things – use this very familiarity to extract a fresh angle or three.
The movie’s chief distinction is in its construction. Taking the 500 days conceit as a starting point, the film skips back and forth across the course of the relationship, jumping from (for example) day 35 back to day one, then forward a week, zipping up to day 420, and back, and forth, and so on.
It’s a very clever ploy, allowing us to see the couple really sparking one minute, and going their separate ways the next. And more to piquantly, vice versa: Tom goofs around in IKEA and glumly observes that his joke falls flat… It’s only 20 minutes later that we learn he was echoing a gambit from a year previously, when the two of them had a blast spoofing the perfect couple in the same store.
The other original ploy here concerns the end; not of the movie, but the relationship. Rom-coms are fashioned after fairytales, they nearly all subscribe to the happily ever after… It’s not giving away too much to say that (500) Days of Summer works up a smart variation on that cliché too (after all, no Summer lasts forever). As Tom says, “this is not a love story.” Or if it is, it’s a lop-sided one. Refreshingly, though, while we basically get Tom’s side of the story, that’s not to say he’s always in the right. There’s more to it than that.
The movie is tricked up with loads of visual panache by Marc Webb – who is confident enough to try whatever it is that pops into his head, it seems, including a delicious song and dance number and an inspired split-screen sequence contrasting a reconciliation as Tom imagines it will be with the very different reality.
Buoyed by two of America’s most charming young actors, this would seem to be a complete winner… Except that not all of Webb’s ideas are equally solid, and there are moments that are just too cute for comfort. Tom’s job at the gift card company, for example – that’s a hook that rightfully belongs in a Sandra Bullock vehicle.
All the same, this is a fresh lick of paint on a genre that was beginning to feel very tired. A deserving sleeper at the US box office too.
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