Tired of the same old love story? That clichéd boy meets girl, they hate each other then learn to love each other, garbage that, while sometimes can be saved by smart filmmakers (Nora Ephron is one of the genre’s saving graces), is just too often filled with “we’ve seen it a million times” junk? Filmmakers like John Hughes, Mike Nichols, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen and most recently Michel Gondry are the few who took the romantic film and created the anti-love story. Instead of overly romanticizing, they showed love for what it really is – painful, happy and everything in between and most importantly were able to present love as something real and not in that perfect little box that we wish it could be.
The debut independent feature by music video director Marc Webb, “(500) Days of Summer,” is both an homage to these great directors, but also a refreshing new film that presents, as its narrator explains, “a story of boy meets girl … not a love story.” An honest film, with an incredible script – this is one of the best films of the year.
“(500) Days of Summer” tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twentysomething who works for a greeting card company, is obsessed with the music of The Smiths and is hopelessly in love with romantic love. Over the course of, well 500 days, Tom falls for his adorable coworker Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a nihilist pixie with a love for Ringo Starr and a knack for origami. As their romance begins to bloom (over a connection to a Smiths song), the infatuated yet terribly naïve Tom must give in to Summer’s attitude toward love (she doesn’t believe in it) and, of course as their relationship ends – it takes an incredible toll on Tom and not on Summer.
The story sounds somewhat played, but through the pens of scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and through Webb’s lens, Tom and Summer’s story is removed from cliché. The film is very much a modern take on Allen’s “Annie Hall,” in that it doesn’t present love as something tangible and that it shows how the screenplay doesn’t have to be concrete. Like “Annie Hall,” “(500) Days of Summer” is a story about love, yet since the plot is non-linear – we are able to see how the relationship works or worked and what caused the inevitable decline.
Instead of using worn-out flashbacks, the film uses repeated shots – such as a shopping trip to a record shop where Tom tries to show Summer a Ringo record for both his and her approval. As the film progresses, we see the shot repeated and extended to see the reaction shots of both Tom and Summer. It shows the pains of wanting the one you love to share something, and how you know sometimes that it just won’t connect.
It’s not only the honesty of the film or its refreshing storytelling style that makes it so strong – it also features strong performances by its leading up-and-coming stars. Deschanel is already a fairly big star, having proven her range in comedies like “Elf” and the underrated “Eulogy.” She’s perfectly cast, not just for her looks but proves a talent she’s never offered before. Deschanel is quickly becoming America’s new sweetheart. She uses microgestures, small yet endearing smiles that invoke the same lump in one’s throat as would some of Chaplin’s greatest women. If this doesn’t make Deschanel A-list, then there’s something seriously wrong with American audiences.
Gordon-Levitt is superb in the role as Tom. Like Nichols’ Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” Gordon-Levitt is not your average leading man – he’s skinny, has tousled hair and doesn’t have traditionally good looks … but it all works. Tom is something of a classic loser, a late bloomer who seems to always fall for the wrong girl. When he finds happiness, however, the audience can’t help but root for him. It’s exciting to see the kid from “Angels in the Outfield” has grown up to achieve something more than expected.
Following the recent, unexpected death of John Hughes, the film is quite similar to his style in its presentation of love in it’s sometimes more painful ways. In one scene, Tom tries to get Summer’s attention by playing The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” to no avail. The scene is very Hughes-ian, using both a song used in Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink,” and in its depiction of the Tom’s painful search for attention.
Luckily, these homages and references never steer toward the realm of knock-off, but show how a filmmaker can be influenced by another or others, and create their own visual representation of the anti-love story. The script is possibly one of the strongest and most inspiring written in the past few years as it is both commercial and independent at the same time.
A very exciting film, “(500) Days of Summer” seems as though it could pull off the impossible. It features an intellectual script, fantastical animated sequences and an honest depiction of the struggle between love vs. the relationship. “(500) Days of Summer” is basically a Woody Allen film for those who hate Woody Allen. A standout film, possibly the best of the summer, you’ll be wishing you could fall in love with “Summer” over and over again.