When is a love story not a love story? Capone reviews (500) DAYS OF SUMMER!!!
Published at: July 17, 2009, 8:33 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
It seems like about 95 percent of all films that profess to be about romance end with the happy couple, having gone through some utterly manufactured drama that rings true on no planet but their own, come out the other side ready to be together and take on the world. Whether the film in question is a romantic comedy (as most of them are) or strictly an attempt at a love story, it's extremely rare to see a film tackle not only the entire span of a relationship but also to spend as much time examining and dissecting the demise of the coupling as it does the passionate rise. Acclaimed music video director Marc Webb's (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is that rare treat that reminds us that not only do more than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, but an even higher percentage of all relationships end in something other than marriage. In an alarming way, 500 DAYS is a wake-up call for people who think THE PROPOSAL is a great movie ($114 million and counting), reminding us that early-stage bliss has to be followed by something, and that something isn't always happily ever after. I don't mean to make the film sound like a downer--the happy times between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are fun, hilarious, charming, and even fantastical--but every mountain has its valley, and this film refuses to let us for that. Thank god.
For those of you who love Deschanel's brand of quirky humor (yes, please), this film has wheelbarrows full of it. But Deschanel's character loses her lovable oddball sheen quickly. Guys must remember that crazy women to whom we find ourselves strangely attracted are still crazy, and not always in a fun way. The fact that Summer and Tom first bond over their love for The Smiths should have sent up a red flag illuminated by several flares shot up at regular intervals. Director Webb (working from a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) is wise to let us know early that both sides of this love equation are not perfect people, and when their feelings are hurt or they just grow tired or annoyed with each other, they aren't going to hide it. Watching Deschanel turn nasty is a slap in the face, and it's kind of awesome to watch her try on something besides a baby-doll dress and tights (literally and figuratively). She's not completely breaking her own mold, but she's caused it some serious structural damage.
The real shocker in 500 DAYS is Gordon-Levitt, playing something I can only refer to as a "normal guy." After such startling and impressive performances in films like BRICK, MYSTERIOUS SKIN, THE LOOKOUT, STOP-LOSS, and HAVOC, I honestly didn't know if he had any interest in playing a character that resembles a leading man. But make no mistake, Tom isn't exactly a conventional leading man. He's a failed architect who now does a pretty bang-up job writing greeting cards, the perfect job for a sensitive man who is clearly in touch with his feelings, even if he couldn't identify most of them in a lineup. When Summer comes to work for the greeting card company, Tom notices her immediately and the countdown (count-up?) begins. You see, the titular 500 DAYS is deliberately misleading (as are the glorious trailers and commercials). It is not the length of their relationship, not exactly. It is a far more harrowing and melancholy span of time, and as the narration reminds us (or perhaps warns us), "This is not a love story."
I haven't mentioned the structure of the film yet, because I don't want you to get hung up on it like it's some kind of gimmick. As you may have heard, the 500 days are not presented in chronological order. In fact, they usually bounce back and forth between early days and end of days, and eventually meet in the middle but even that doesn't quite explain it. There are little tells about where we are in the course of their time together--Summer's hair changes a bit, moods are different, the passion levels are high and low--but by the end of the film, none of that really matters. Going into the film, I had assumed that, by presenting his movie in this manner, Webb would help us spot that exact moment when the tide turned on this coupling. Quite the opposite turns out to be true. If anything, he underscores how two separate instances in their lives only a couple of days apart can appear like night and day. So what happened in between? That's just the point. Nothing specific sets things in the wrong direction. It just happens, and that almost makes it more heartbreaking, because there's nothing that could have been prevented.
There I go again, wading into the downbeat parts of the film. But it's those parts that separate 500 DAYS from, well, everything else. But even the more conventional stuff shines. If you've watched the commercials for the film closely enough, you may have noticed there appears to be a dance number in the film, and that sequence is phenomenal and deliberately misleads the audience into thinking this is going to be just another silly rom-com that would feature such a moment. And while Webb and his cast certainly aren't making fun of such moments in standard-issue Hollywood romances, there's a gentle mocking going on that is unmistakeable. Of course, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is a film loaded with flawed people. Tom loves too much; Summer can't seem to love enough (or at least not love Tom enough); and the people giving them advice are exactly like the idiots that give you advice. I guess it kind of goes without saying--but I'll say it anyway, so there's no confusion--I love this movie with an obsession much like Tom's for Summer: it's unhealthy, but it makes me feel so good. And it rekindled my passion for Hall & Oates music. Don't judge me, you bastards! Time to dance...