4 Stars out of 4
Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer is a creative and honest charm. It’s rare when you’d see me deliver a perfect score to a rom-com (dare I call it that granted its transcendence and purity), but it’s also rare when you see a movie like this be earnest about not only its characters but about its topic: ill-fated love. This is a story of fate. Or is it? Call it, define it how you want, but there is a simpler way to put 500 Days. According to its scholarly-spoken narrator: this is a story of boy meets girl. But best be sure, this is not a love story. Scratch what I just wrote.
Upon instantly, you know how 500 Days is going to progress. The characters begin as wondrous, amiable hopeless romantics and conclude as torn, divided, but most importantly mature romantics. The confusing little thing called love is not the gimmick here, it’s the idea. What is love? How come it can be so hard to find? And what does it feel like?
We shift from one day to another. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sits in his cubical, aspiring to be an architect, but stuck doodling cards for Hallmark-esque corporations. For them though, he is easily embraced. When someone can’t ponder the proper word for a card, Tom will be there to give it a name. He knows how to apply emotions but is not exactly sure what the heck they do. He meets (well, sort of, observes bashfully) a secretary named Summer (that cutie Zooey Deschanel) and she seems like a benign, charming femme. Tom is too timorous to confront her, so he hears in passing through his friends (hilarious cohorts played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler) that she’s a total bitch. Whatever (and I paraphrase), Tom shrugs, she didn’t look worth it anyways. Oh really?
Through some ingenious set pieces between Tom and Summer (which, as insurmountable as it may seem, never comes off contrived) they develop this passive fervency towards each other. Webb is smart: these characters are all intelligent, relatable, charming, and believable. Alas, after an awkward moment on the street when Tom fails to admit he has a crush on Summer when she asks adorably, she breaks the ice the next scene through some fine hanky panky in the photocopier room. From then on, Summer begins.
But then time alters. Tom is in a fit, dejected to the bone. Summer is gone. His friends tell him to move on (we’ve all heard that dreaded attempted enthusiastic saying “plenty of fish in the sea.”). Tom submits: I don’t want to forget about her, I want her back. Don’t we all.
It’s not the intricate shots or detailed mise-en-scene that conquers 500 Days. It’s its truth to what it believes in. What is love and does it exist? We almost want to associate love to that narrator, as he seems as immaterial as love itself. We never see him nor do we see love, in its blossoming form. Tom and Summer have their own semi-frivolous dispositions on what love is. Summer thinks it’s all fantasy, a fairy tale that reeks of impermanence. For Tom, it’s more metaphysical. You know when you are in love when you just feel it. It sounds silly, but we all know what he means.
500 Days minces these two thoughts throughout the film’s course. After Tom and Summer canoodle, Tom strolls along a street singing harmoniously to You Make My Dreams by Hall and Oates. The screen springs with jubilance as he dances and others join him. Entrenched in his sudden fantasy – of love. Perhaps Summer is right.
But 500 Days does not play on one note of smarmy excitement. It recoils to display the utter bleakness that haunts these characters. All of a sudden, Cupid’s arrow hits the both of them and Tom becomes excited – he’s found that girl. For Summer, it’s a different story. That thought of love frightens her, but nevertheless, she feels it. Perhaps Tom is right.
What shapes 500 Days of Summer as a masterpiece on the romantic juncture is its approachability and how it transcends the cliché of discovered passion. It’s not the looks that make us admire these characters, it is their heart, their compassion that envelopes them as beautiful.
And cutting from one day to the next, the tones do not get lost in confusion because Webb makes 500 Days more about how unfortunate love can be sometimes. At one moment we are in utter bliss, the next moment we want to curse love and declare it hate. After all, Henry Longfellow did coin love and hate together: “There’s nothing in this world so sweet as love. And next to love the sweetest thing is hate.” Does this quote make you think much? If your wheels are turning, prepare to watch 500 Days of Summer. Expect it to shine.
I especially adore the bitter-sweet melancholy of 500 Days’ ending. We come to learn that love is one thing but it’s that little something else that completes it. It’s unfair because we don’t get it. Whether we find it or not, it will still haunt us. Like a buried treasure. And 500 Days is certainly that (key reference: no oscar nominations at all!).
But there’s a scene I’ve never forgotten. It’s not from 500 Days of Summer, it’s from Woody Allen’s Manhattan (of which this film is shockingly reminiscent of – and Annie Hall). The finale of Manhattan involved Allen’s character beseeching his young sweetheart (played by Mariel Hemingway) to stay with him, after he falsely left her for silly lust. He’s worried that if she gets on that train, she’ll find someone else and their love will dissolve. She smiles, squares her face, and states: you just have to have a little faith in people. 500 Days of Summer may not make us believe in people, but it will with love. Or maybe the other way around. Hm. What it does tell us though is that Summer is just a season and, sooner or later, Autumn will come.