The narrator of “(500) Days of Summer” warns us when the film begins that it isn’t a love story, maybe because it involves characters who don’t really know what love is. If it wouldn’t be accurate to call it a love story, let us say it’s a movie about people who make each other happy by opening up to one another. That’s probably how the film earns love for its hero, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – because it holds no punches when it comes to his love life, we’re able to understand exactly how he feels, and why one girl wound up becoming the center of his universe.
The movie focuses on Tom’s memories of Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a girl who has him convinced that she’s the one for him. Love isn’t something that hits him over the head, though – there’s some mild attraction when Tom first meets Summer at his job, where he writes messages for greeting cards, but having her around the office isn’t a big deal. He has a change of heart when he spends some time with her, like during an exchange they have in an elevator, where she hears a song by the Smiths playing on his headphones. By the time she compliments him on his taste in music and leaves, he realizes that there’s more to her than he thought.
The problem is that she doesn’t go for relationships. She insists that she can be happy all by herself. Still, she likes Tom enough to let him into her life and even though she doesn’t see him as a boyfriend (“friends with benefits” seems like a more adequate term), Tom’s certain that there’s more here than Summer understands. He can tell by the conversations they have together – Summer trusts him with secrets about her personal life and Tom opens up about his love for architecture, not caring whether his appreciation for some of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles makes him a geek.
As good as he has it, though, he feels as if something’s missing: Sure, she likes having Tom around, but does she love him?
Everyone talks about how the movie plays with its own timeline – instead of having a linear chronology, we get a kind of iPod shuffle of memories in an order that still manages to serve the story.
In fact, “(500) Days of Summer” is a strange title, considering how few of those days we actually see. When one of the characters reminds Tom that he had more bad times with Summer than he remembers at first, we begin to understand how little we’re really seeing. It makes sense for Tom to omit the parts he doesn’t like, but eventually, he learns to take the bad with the good. A movie this good deserves to be honest with itself.
Through this movie director Webb creates a strong antithesis of the formulaic recipe for comedy: “Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl.” He defies this cliché scheme with the taglines of the movie: “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.”
Indeed, the ever-lasting love game is not romanticized in some Utopian way; it is presented with all out roller coaster-like ups and downs, unfulfilled wishes, unsatisfied desires, unpleasant truths and harsh realities. There is a straight line drawn to distinguish the daydreaming from the actual outcome of the life situations, thus making the movie a vivid exemplum for the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” There is even a narrator’s voice who serves as chorus, in a sense, by telling the audience things the protagonists don’t know or maybe don’t want to know.
Zooey Deschanel is the absolute highlight of the movie by showing her great acting and musical talent as Summer. She seems natural when goofing around in an imaginary house at IKEA’s showroom, riding her bicycle to work as if being any ordinary girl and singing karaoke in the bar. The same, however, cannot be said for Gordon-Levitt.
Although he has been performing in plays, commercials, sitcoms and movies since early childhood, he is unconvincing and even comic in the role of Tom. His acting contributes mostly to the humorous side of the film, especially in the scene in the bar where he punches the man flirting with Summer in the face. Otherwise, he becomes amateurish in the deeper parts of the feature, especially when he is shown talking to Summer about their relationship, screaming “Penis!” in the park or reacting to Summer’s news of engagement at the house party. It is obvious that summertime has really washed away Gordon- Levitt’s acting abilities.
Nevertheless, every time he shares screen time with Deschanel, there is some subliminal chemistry between the two. Their juxtaposition is poignant and yields a lot about the tragedy of the two characters.
– Raya Dimitrova