500 Days of Summer
Directed by Mark Webb
Starring: Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
This indie-flavoured directorial debut from Marc Webb is a punch aimed at the hallmark brand of all-or-nothing, one true love, happy ending romance that we should all be familiar with thanks to Hollywood. While claiming early in the film that “this is not a love story”, 500 Days of Summer can be enjoyed by both romantic-comedy tragics, and haters of the idealistic, formulaic institution that the genre has become. There is a dark thread of realism to the tale of pitiful heartbreak that will be immediately familiar to most, while at the same time colourful humour and musical deviations keep the film from being compared or likened to emo culture. This dualism is the subtle beauty of this standout film.
The high volume of romance comedies that have been churned out in recent years has unsuccessfully attempted to grasp onto anything unique or unconventional to freshen up a long tired genre but almost every film still feels like a different setting for the same old story. Most will involve one party of a relationship idealising the idea of the ‘one true love’ and the other party holding onto a deep-seated new age cynicism that creates the tension and point of the film. The explosive politics that inevitably ensue almost always become resolved when true love is restored and the institution of marriage is celebrated. 500 Days of Summer is both a risky step out of this convention, and then a safe step back in that will reward the swooning 16 year old girl viewers and will no doubt annoy all the single Smiths fans in their 20s.
The quirky Zooey Deschanel plays Summer, the extreme of the stereotypical love cynic who states right from the start she isn’t interested in relationships. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, the romantic protagonist who wears his heart on his sleeve and whose job as a greeting card writer makes him the complete opposite to Summer. When he falls in love he struggles to suppress his true feelings so as to maintain a relationship with a girl who always has one foot out the door ready to run. The film uses this situation to comment on the state of modern relationships, with the only references to family being of its absence, hinting at the prevalence and inevitability of divorce and unhappiness. This leaves Tom reduced to seeking relationship advice from his pre-teen sister! Their amusing therapy sessions show that she understands far more about human relationships then he can in his current state. As the sole perspective the story is Tom’s, the viewer is invited further into his misery and tragically naive belief that any amount of pain is always worth the girl. His confusion and frustration is amplified for the audience by the way the narrative structure jumps back and forward through time, efficiently emphasising the contradictions in the actions of Summer.
It is becoming apparent that filmmakers and writers are beginning to be influenced heavily by the literature of Nick Hornby (and the films made from his books) and 500 Days is a strong example of this. As High Fidelity argues; it is not who you are but what you like that is important to this generation. 500 Days of Summer is filled with quick little music references and arguments on the value of pop culture icons and the soundtrack pays homage to this. A hilarious comparison of Tom and Summer’s relationship to Sid and Nancy is made during the first break up talk. As the narrator explains early, Tom’s idealism was born out of a love of Britpop bands in his youth and the tracks chosen celebrate this in much the same way as the film version of High Fidelity, or more recently The Boat That Rocked did. While you will see The Clash, Joy Division and The Smiths shirts everywhere, you will also hear great music by these bands. Katie mentioned a few in her blog this week but some other great ones you will hear are The Clash’s Train in Vain (the last song of their best album) Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap (great that Australian band is in there!) and She’s got you High by Mumm-ra.
500 Days of Summer is a break-up story that has is offering a level of realism and ruthless heartbreak that Hollywood hasn’t produced since Mike Nichols’ Closer. The conventional redress of true love idealism at the end is the most annoying part of the film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone getting away with what Woody Allen did with the classic rom-com Annie Hall anymore. No one pays for a sad ending except the critics these days anyway. For the most part though, the careful steps outside of conventional boundaries make this a rewarding film with great young cast, a beautiful soundtrack of classic and contemporary music, and a sentimental outlet for all of those really bad break-ups.
You will like this if: You ever got dumped for stupid, irrational reasons and you still want answers…
You will hate this if: Self-pity, sadness and misery served with pop music isn’t your idea of a good time.
500 Days of Summer is currently on a limited early release and will be screening everywhere Sept 17