(500) Days of Summer
Dealing with people is hard. I mean, really hard. But that’s not a big revelation if you’ve, you know, lived. You can’t see what’s in another’s heart, and certainly not what they’re thinking. It makes life really f-ing painful at times.
“(500) Days of Summer” feels your pain. Imaginatively written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who should- come February- have Oscars on their mantel for their work), this is the romantic comedy crossed with “Memento,” although to be honest, if it were that simple, it’d be bloody-ass boring.
And “(500) Days” is anything but, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, an architect student passing times in his 20s as a greeting card writer when he sees Summer (Zooey Deschanel)- his boss’ new assistant- across the sea of cubicles. Tom is love struck at first sight, although the first sight of them we see is on Day 488, with them holding hands on a park bench, and a wedding band on her finger.
Hold on, though. Cut back to Day 290, and Tom is devastated. She’s just broken up with him. She’s too much of a free spirit- she doesn’t label them as a “couple”- and has doubts about whether she can even feel love, making the romantic Tom (who thought “The Graduate” had a happy ending, rather than an uncertain one) fall into a romantic abyss. At one point, his sister- wiser than you’d expect for such a youngin’- gives him some advice- “Look back at your memories of her. You’re just remembering the good.”
I’ve never really been in a romantic relationship, but I have had my heart broken by someone I trusted. It took me a long time to get out of that funk, partially because I had other issues following me down the abyss. To say I identified with Tom in this film is to put it lightly, but by the end, I felt like I understood Summer a little more clearly than we do at the beginning, and by extension, some of the reasons central to understanding my own dilemma. That’s not to say there won’t be work left to do in moving on, but like Tom, I feel like that first step is a little easier to take.
Director Marc Webb- making a sensational debut- makes the story easy to follow with easily-labeled title cards telling us which day we’re watching, but he also gives us a rich and disarmingly witty look at Tom’s emotional journey (best of all in a split-screen sequence after the break-up where Tom’s expectations and reality have a deep chasm), with a soundtrack too vast to tick off by name (just buy it for yourself, and experience it on your own), and a story that moves effortlessly in time with heartbreak and humor.
Of course, it helps that he’s also cast two of the best actors of their generation in the lead roles. The result is movie magic- Gordon-Levitt continues to get bolder and better as an actor, displaying the range and go-for-broke attitude we first saw on “3rd Rock From the Sun,” but has also continued to impress in films like “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Brick,” “The Lookout,” and “Stop-Loss.” As Tom you see elements of all of those performances shine through in this fully-realized character (who even has a little dancing to do in the park after they first sleep together). And Deschanel- best known as a supporting actor in films like “Failure to Launch” and “Almost Famous”- is an enigmatic and wonderful delight as Summer. We fall hard for Summer as well, but we see the insecurities that make their relationship a doomed possibility as the days go on.
No matter- by the time we see them on that park bench, now seeing what came before it, we’ve had as difficult and emotional a journey as Tom and Summer have. We also have a better understanding- as they do- of what our own personally journey is about.