After months of eager anticipation and doubt in this film’s distributors (thankfully proven wrong), I made time as a recently-single individual to catch what I now consider one of my favorite films of 2009.
In the indie-inclined, quirky rom-com category, there seem to be some tricks that filmmakers will always turn to without fail. Without careful consideration and thoughtful execution, many of these things can progress from tried-and-true to just truly trite. Thankfully, veteran music director Marc Webb’s leap into feature films is a perfect example of where all the right elements find a comfortable balance, much like one experiences on a perfect, breezy summer day.
During the opening sequence of (500) Days of Summer, a distinct unaffected voice reminds the audience that “this is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront…this is not a love story”. Somewhere along the film, you may reach a point where you disagree with this statement, or you may not. I feel that this is precisely one of the film’s strengths, because I’ve always found that in real life, a love affair (and even its demise) are subject to individual perception—sometimes even (or perhaps most especially) for those involved in it.
The integration of the narrator as an omniscient figure in the lives of the two leads reminded me greatly of Little Children, and to a certain extent, the lessons learned by the main characters in both these cinematic works parallel each other. Since we’re on the subject of Kate Winslet’s body of work, I’m certain I wasn’t the only one reminded of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while watching (500) Days of Summer thanks to the use of a non-linear narrative to highlight those key moments in a relationship. I suppose it’s because when things go awry, your memories of your once-great-love become fragmented as you try to break everything apart and piece together the reason for your breakup.
Music plays a huge role in this film as well, and admittedly, I got teary-eyed when Regina Spektor’s “Us” began to play during the opening credits (but that’s only due to an extremely personal frame of reference). I would love it if the film took home a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture like Zach Braff did for Garden State. We all have soundtracks to the different loves who have walked in and out of our lives, and for those who have stuck around, so it only makes sense that music be a driving force in the story.
Zooey Deschanel plays the titular Summer, a character that co-screenwriter Scott Neustadster based on a real girl with whom he shared an ill-fated romance. Since this is a “modern”, “non-love story”, Summer’s perception of relationships is one that used to be assigned to the male species. Again, echoing Kate’s Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, she’s charmingly intriguing yet slightly askew, physically attractive but emotionally elusive. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom Hanson holds a belief in direct contradiction to Summer’s: a true romantic, when he sees her for the first time in the greeting card company where they work, he’s convinced that she’s “The One”. That’s precisely where the trouble in their romance begins: in the beginning.
Of course, they’re both too swept up in the momentum of those moments that make up the great first part of a relationship: the thrill of flirtation, the exhiliration of mutual (albeit differing degrees of) attraction, and the promise of possibility. That’s what I took most out of this charming little film. It may not be the most innovative thing to come along in a while, but it’s effective in its attempt at reminding us that sometimes, in love and in life, we all choose to see what we want to see, and leave ourselves blind to other possibilities. Possibilities that might actually hold the promise of that happiness we’ve been searching for.
P.S. I’ve always had a soft spot for split-screen sequences and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends”.