A Look Back At This Wonderful Indie From 2009
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
There's something about the hopeless romantic character that resonates deeply with me. Perhaps it's because I am one myself, or maybe it's the idea of lost idealism rushing to the surface that creates a lasting appeal. Whatever the reason, "(500) Days of Summer" is a film that puts this archetype front and center, the result of which is a damn fine movie.
The hopeless romantic in this story is Tom, played by the always engaging Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an architect at heart but currently employed as a writer of greeting cards in downtown Los Angeles. Tom's belief in true love is expressed when he first meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel), the new secretary at the card company. What follows is the story of their strained relationship and eventual break-up, told from Tom's perspective.
Gordon-Levitt plays Tom's heartbreak beautifully, never making it sentimental or pathetic. He becomes withdrawn, depressed and, for a while, angry. Angry at Summer, yes, but mostly angry at himself for believing that he could change Summer's beliefs about love to fit with his. She tells him early on that she's not looking for a relationship, nor does she believe in true love. But Tom believes so earnestly that he's the man that will cause her to rethink what she already knows. Where your sympathy lies depends upon the character with whom you identify the most.
On one hand, there's Summer, who is upfront and honest about what she's looking for. She tells Tom how it is and asks if he is willing to accept her terms. On the other hand, there's Tom, a man whose judgement is clouded by his convictions. But that's what makes watching this movie such a rewarding experience: It nails both sides of a doomed relationship so perfectly, that no matter who you see yourself as, it's a pleasure to watch.
This pleasure, for me at least, comes to fruition in two key scenes of the film. The first is a small moment that sets up the second scene, when we're led to believe that Tom and Summer could potentially get back together. It's a few seconds on a train after they've left a wedding and it seems like they're falling in love all over again. Tom is awake in his seat and Summer's head ever-so-gracefully falls on his shoulder. The look on Tom's face is one of pure joy and relief. He's done it, he's won her back, or so he thinks. It's a small gesture, yes, but in the hands of a less capable actor it could have gone way wrong. Gordon-Levitt lives in this moment and reacts accordingly.
The second scene is when Tom shows up at Summer's apartment for a party. She invited him at the wedding, they had that moment on the train, so naturally Tom thinks this is his shot at happiness. Many will remember that this is the expectations vs. reality sequence, where the left side of the screen shows what Tom thought would happen and the right shows what actually happens. It's sad, yes, but contagious in its effect. What we're left with is a broken man who has to reconcile with his own ideals.
The one love Tom still has in his life is the city of Los Angeles, which is a character in and of itself. Out of Tom's loss comes the will to pursue his dream of being an architect and letting the city that surrounds him be his constant source of inspiration. Los Angeles is shown in ways we're not used to seeing on screen; there's an affection for the city. You could almost say that Tom is having a constant affair with it. And that's just one of many charms this movie offers, especially upon repeated viewing.
Director Marc Webb uses a variety of filmmaking techniques, all of which compliment the mood and tone of the characters. There's a musical number when Tom and Summer have sex for the first time, a reference to French New Wave films when Tom is "suffering", and interviews with the characters about their thoughts on love. None of this ever takes you out of the story because it's all so complimentary of what Tom is going through. "(500) Days of Summer" is love in its richest form: it loves the characters, story and setting, but it also loves every aspect of the filmmaking process.