“I think you know what I need”
This is a story of boy meets girl and it most definitely is not a love story … in the strictest sense of the word at least. Love is a major factor in (500) Days of Summer; just not in the way you may anticipate, thinking the film a romantic comedy. Instead, the tale shows us how love, or the lack therefore, can effect two young souls, lost and alone in the world. When Tom meets Summer his life is turned around to sunshine and rainbows—a full dance number, complete with Disney-fied bluebird, expresses this fact. What he doesn’t know that first day is that when she tells him she isn’t looking for anything serious, she means it. Tom’s journey to salvation or damnation is one through the rough and tumble world of love and he is its punching bag. But one must realize that all things happen for a reason, we all need to find that love-struck puppy to show us it exists as more than a dream and we all need to find that cynical non-believer to help build up the skin and realize life isn’t perfect. Sometimes a heart needs to be broken in order for it to be found and appreciated by the only one who can.
Tom’s younger sister Rachel, played wonderfully by Chloe Moretz, is the voice of reason on all things relationship. She says the one thing that all people involved in a breakup need to hear. It wasn’t always good; you can’t remember the one that got away in love-rimmed glasses. You need to look again and see the bad, see the ways in which he or she let you down and realize that it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe they left because what you felt wasn’t in their heart and, truthfully, that is a good thing. You don’t want to be in a relationship built on lies; sometimes you just aren’t meant to be together. So many lines in this film resonate as nuggets of wisdom so true, yet ignored when it is you those words are trying to hit. Tom asks Summer what went wrong with all her previous boyfriends and she responds with, “What always happens? Life”. It isn’t always written in stone, nor is anything permanent. Each one of us needs to work as hard as he can to keep a relationship alive because love is not always enough. But when you find that person you are meant to be with, “you’ll just know”. You’ll see that thing that you could not find in the ones before.
That’s enough of the pain for now, though. Despite this being a story about heartbreak and the love that caused it and that which heals it, there are a lot of laughs to go with the serious drama. What makes that drama hit so hard is not only the fact that the emotions are all laid out raw and unfiltered, but also because of the levity used to temper it all. The tone is set very early as the film begins with a disclaimer cautioning that any resemblances to real life are merely coincidental … even for the girl on whom Summer is based. This little touch, showing the audience how personal the tale is to the writers adds one more layer to its everyman disposition. We are experiencing something we have all seen in real life, whether to us or someone close—the pain of rejection, the confusion of utopia’s demise. The humor is offbeat throughout and adds just the right amount of indie flair to make it endearing. How else could a full dance number work in the middle of a non-linear narrative about a breakup so devastating our lead spends almost half his 500 days without the girl, just reminiscing on what they had—or what he thought they had? And don’t forget Geoffrey Arend’s physical comedy, stealing scenes and standing out just as he did in Super Troopers and Garden State.
However, it is watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel interact as Tom and Summer that is amazing. The chemistry is there, something Gordon-Levitt said was easy due to the fact he listened to her album with M. Ward—making up the duo She & Him—each morning. Having been love interests in the fantastic film Manic, although under very different circumstances in that heavy drama, surely helped too. Their rapport is honest and relatable; watching them have fun in Ikea, making it their own personal playhouse, is great. Comedic timing precise and possibly ad-libbed, lines like “honey, don’t look now but a Chinese family is in our bathroom” land direct hits. But those moments aren’t only utilized for laughs; they also show the symmetry of life by using the line as an example of bliss for day 38, but also of distance and disinterest come day 191. Life definitely happens to this couple, making them stronger even if a year of pain and weakness is necessary to acquire that strength.
Told out of order, we experience the 500 days of the title just as the writers want us to. Days are coupled to mirror each other for greater emotive force, they are shown in sequence quickly as a humorous device expressing days spent in bed depressed, and they are paired to prove how fickle dating is as one day Tom is in love and the next they are through, even though they never were a they to that point. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have crafted a very personal tale here, (we’ll forget their other credited screenplay, Pink Panther 2), and should be commended. As should director Marc Webb for going all out: getting stellar performances from his cast and infusing unique style, a rockin’ soundtrack, and even moments of animated sketches. Rarely can you put life in all its glorious blemishes and bruises on screen without the need to tack on a happy ending or contrived moment of explanation, sometimes there aren’t any. But this is a story about a boy and girl who went through adolescence listening to sad, melancholy Brit-pop. We’re lucky these kids aren’t Goths as a result, just two souls looking for answers, unsure if the other can supply them.
The two leads do no wrong, proved when scenes are played back in slo-mo to show the true expressions on their faces. You see the change in looks given by Deschanel as the numbered days get higher and higher. She slowly discovers that Tom is a blast to hang with, but the trouble necessary to make a relationship work just isn’t worth it. Never labeling them a couple, nor ever verbally alluding to it, (we won’t get into the physical allusions), she realizes her casualness hadn’t been equaled by Tom. He defends her by getting punched in the face at a bar, he does everything he can to make her happy, blinding himself from the realization that, if he needs to try, it isn’t working. With every failure, though, with every misstep, there comes an opportunity to try again with someone new. The path through hell, wrestling with those inner demons in a bid to get over “the one” may just lead to the actual “one” you didn’t know was out there. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it coincidence, either way, everything we do leads us to our next moment, so take nothing for granted and always keep your eyes open.
(500) Days of Summer 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
[1 & 2] L-R: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick