(500) Days of Summer
Fox Searchlight Pictures
(500) Days of Summer is that rare kind of film that transcends its genre and the stereotypes that follow. The film is, for lack of a better categorization, a romantic comedy, but it really works on so many more levels. Forget its indie marketing scheme, forget its little Sundance blurbs, and forget the trailer’s claims that “this isn’t a love story.” Sure the indie claims are backed up by the inclusion of numerous hipster-approved references, sure it was a hit at Sundance, and no, it isn’t your typical love story. However, the film stands out because of its strong performances, its unique directorial vision and screenplay, and the ring of reality in its tale.
For starters, traditional Hollywood rolls are flipped on their head as it is the female lead, played effortlessly by Zooey Deschanel, who isn’t interested in a commitment. In any major Hollywood film that might be the only twist sought to make the film standout from its peers. Summer, though, really captures both the struggle of approaching a girl so captivating you’re intimidated and somewhat afraid of her, as well as the misery and heartbreak when something that seemed so good doesn’t work out.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in an amazing performance as Tom, the love struck young man who falls prey to Summer’s whimsical lifestyle. Probably still best known for his work on the ‘90s sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, Gordon-Levitt has grown into a really impressive performer. He was amazing in Brick and is even better here. I hope to see him take on increasingly challenging roles in the future. Deschanel (who first caught my eye in Almost Famous and even made me enjoy The New Guy) delivers every line with such subtle charm that it’s even easier to buy into Tom’s initial infatuation and eventual love. Chloe Moretz, who plays Tom’s younger sister, and Geoffrey Arend, still most recognizable from his brief role in Super Troopers as a drug swallowing teenager, turn in great supporting performances as well.
Amazing acting can sometimes save an otherwise deplorable film, but that isn’t necessary here. The screenplay is stellar and the film features several impressive vignettes that really set it a cut above. The film is set in Los Angeles, but I didn’t even recognize the city until midway through the film because such unique settings are used. It’s a side of L.A. I hadn’t seen even after visiting several times. Huge kudos are also in order for the inclusion of several scenes set during the karaoke night at a local bar. As an avid fan and frequent participant I was appreciative of the nod to Japan’s greatest gift to the world.
Probably the most powerful part of the film is its believability. Unless you have been blessed in love, chances are you’ve gone through some of the very situations or emotional struggles portrayed here. This gives the film the benefit of being able to connect with an audience where other romantic films fall short (I gather very few of us have gone on a date to purposely alienate our dates with the intent of using the experience in a magazine article only to fall head over heels for the guy in the end). Despite the “love lost” theme of the movie, Summer ultimately gives Tom a message of hope for the future. While there are a few stereotypical moments, it isn’t until the very end that the film really falls on a Hollywood cliché, but the scene is so cute it’s totally forgivable. This is a romantic comedy, after all.