Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/26/09 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Marc Webb and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer tells the story of a hopeless romantic recalling his own experiences with a young woman who doesn't believe in true love. Over the span of 500 days through non-linear storytelling the young man recalls his hopes and dreams of romance based on his knowledge of pop culture and films only to be hit with a dose of harsh realities. A film that revels in the world of romance and a study of the romantic-comedy genre, it's a film that is also a deconstruction of what is expected in the genre itself. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel plus Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, and Clark Gregg. (500) Days of Summer is a charming, witty, yet stylish film from Marc Webb.
It's day 290 as Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has just ended a wonderful yet troubled relationship with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Tom's little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) and his two friends McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) are concerned over his emotional state. Rachel asks Tom what happens as he revealed that Summer just wanted to be friends and that was it. Tom recalls the day he met Summer as she had just moved from Michigan to Los Angeles where she worked as an assistant for his boss (Clark Gregg) at a greeting cards place where McKenzie also works. Tom works in creating lines and such for the company where he's considered a master. Then one day as he's listening to the Smiths, Summer hears the Smiths from his iPod headphones as there was a brief bond over the band.
Days later, Tom asks Summer to go to a bar with co-workers where everyone sang some drunken karaoke as attraction happens. A few days later, Summer kisses Tom as things start to develop where Tom, who believes that Summer is the one, is starting to feel good though Summer doesn't believe in true love. The relationship becomes blissful as Summer reveals her favorite Beatle is Ringo Starr while they have a love for classic European art house cinema and alternative/indie music. Tom then ponders when did it all fall apart. He goes back to events where Summer reveal things about herself while another event involving a drunken guy (Ian Reed Kesler) trying to flirt with Summer and making Tom angry that it led to a fight. Tom becomes unsure of how it fell apart where after the break-up, he tries to move on. A date with another girl (Rachel Boston) becomes a disaster with Tom pondering if he will ever get over Summer.
Then came an invite to a co-worker's wedding that Summer also attends as it seems sparks would happen again but Tom, believing in all of the things he learned through films, music, and other references to pop culture, would learn some harsh truth about all that had happened and why it fell apart in the first place.
There's a formula with romantic comedies that are often set-up into structures and ideas that at times, it creates stories that don't have much heart and often leaves the audience underwhelmed in its surprises. A film like this is about a total deconstruction of the genre where it does follow a simple formula of sorts but moves back and forth and side-to-side of how the relationship developed, how good things were, how did it fall apart, how it ended, and its aftermath all in the span of 500 days. Some of which is told through a narrator about what this story about as in the beginning, it reveals that this film is not a love story. Even before the film even begins, there's a warning about the film that is truly fiction, except to the person that the film is supposedly about.
The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is truly fascinating in its exploration of the relationship. A lot of which follows Tom Hansen's own view of things where his character goes through this amazing development of this hopeless romantic believing in destiny, fate, and all of these things only to be hit by reality in such a dramatic way. When he loses Summer and tries to move on, he goes into a funk where it would affect his own work and such. The character of Tom is truly fascinating where the writers would have the audience love and root for him but once he is hit with these realities. He becomes somewhat pathetic but still interesting as he delves into his dreary personality with glimmers of hope that he might get Summer back.
Then there's Summer who is briefly observed into her own life as well as the affect she had on men in the past. The writers make her into this likeable, charming personality that wins over the audience despite her lack of belief in true love. Of course with relationships, it's always believed that one person causes the problem when the reality that it's two people that end a relationship. What happens to Summer will make the audience not like her at all in how she torments Tom after the break-up only until the story moves back to a key event that revolves around a classic film. Once that event is revealed, it's clear that love is about many things that sometimes, can be heartbreaking. What Neustadter and Weber create is a story that is complex with moments of humor and heartbreak that creates a story that is truly real to an audience that has experienced what love is.
Director Marc Webb does a spectacular job in creating a film that is unique and stylish. From the way it opened before the opening credits to the transitions of days with a drawn scene of buildings with colors changing to create a mood for the scene that's about to be shown or afterwards with numbers moving back and forth to the day of a key scene. Webb's direction is engaging into the relationship of Tom/Summer from its budding/loving days to its disintegration and aftermath all in the span of 500 days. Yet, there's scenes that revolve around fantasy in Tom's world. Whether it's a musical dance number to Hall & Oates' You Make My Dreams to more dramatic events in which Tom is watching a European style film that harkens to the French New Wave and the films of Ingmar Bergman. Webb's approach to the direction is very stylish as he ends the film with ambiguity over what is expected in the genre or how to make the story end for one of its characters. Overall, Webb creates a lively and sensational film that revels in its deconstruction of the romantic-comedy genre.
Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does an excellent job though the photography is mostly straightforward in its colorful shots of Los Angeles in its exteriors and interior scenes. Steelberg does create some interesting shots involving a sunny-day scene at a train as Steelberg's work is very good. Editor Alan Edward Ball does great work in the transitional movements of the film while using split screens and such to create dramatic purposes for the film involving Tom's state of mind as well as the opening credits sequence featuring a young Tom and a young Summer. Even in its visual effects editing in presenting a drawn, animated sequence to live action or vice-versa creates a wonderful style while bringing a nice, leisured pace for the film itself.
Production designer Laura Fox with set decorator Jennifer Lukehart and art director Charles Varga does some nice work in the look of the record store, Tom's apartment, and the apartment of Summer filled with origami objects and jewels that play to Summer's personality. The costume design by Hope Hanafin is phenomenal from the dresses and clothing that Zooey Deschanel wears to the suits and album t-shirts that Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears. Sound designer Piero Mura does fine work in the sound recording in capturing the sounds of video games in the places that Tom and his friends hang out at to the banging sounds near Tom's apartment to display his dreary mood.
The music score of Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen is excellent in its plaintive, light-hearted score to play up to the charming yet melancholic mood of the film. Yet, it's soundtrack supervised by Andrea von Foerster that is truly amazing with music by Regina Spektor, the Smiths, Hall & Oates, Black Lips, Doves, Carla Bruni, Feist, the Temper Trap, Wolfmother, Mumm-Ra, Meaghan Smith, Simon & Garfunkel, and Deschanel's own She & Him project with M. Ward covering the Smiths' Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want along with karaoke versions of songs by the Pixies, Poison, and the Clash. It's a soundtrack where in an age of contrived, uninspired soundtracks where the songs don't do any purpose to the film, there is something that is actually worth something to sing along to.
The casting by Edye Belasco is superb with appearances from Clark Gregg as Tom's mild-mannered yet sympathetic boss, Adam Emery & Olivia Howard Bragg as the respective 12-year old versions of Tom and Summer in flashback scenes, Ian Reed Kesler as a jerk at a bar, and Rachel Boston as a date of Tom's following his break-up with Summer. Notable supporting roles from Geoffrey Arend as McKenzie and Matthew Gray Gubler as Paul are excellent with Arend as the funny co-worker of Tom while Gubler has some funny moments while being the more straight friend to Tom. The best supporting role truly goes to Chloe Moretz as Tom's young, 13-year old sister Rachel who grounds Tom to reality about the way love works as she definitely stands toe-to-toe with Gordon-Levitt in every scene she's in.
Finally, there's the duo of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, both of whom had worked together in the 2001 film Manic with Don Cheadle. In the role of Summer, Deschanel exudes the quirky personality of the character as she is someone who doesn't believe in true love only to fall for the romantic Tom. Deschanel also shows Summer's flaws as she becomes unsure about everything which would leave to the break-up as Deschanel maintains a lively personality to her role as Summer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom is amazing as Gordon-Levitt brings a lot of charm and wit to the role as he starts out as this upbeat romantic to someone who is dreary and disillusioned. The performances of the two together is believable and fun to watch as they clearly have great chemistry from start to finish as they are really the heart and soul of the film.
(500) Days of Summer is a whimsical, charming, yet unconventional film from Marc Webb featuring the superb performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. While some audiences might be put off by its non-linear approach and unconventional style, it's a film that is refreshing in some respects in comparison to the more formulaic romantic comedies that are currently fleshed out in theaters and DVDs in the past few years. Even as it serves a deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre by playing to the audience's knowledge of pop culture and romance where it deals with real themes and situations that people can relate to. In the end, (500) Days of Summer is a winning yet enchanting film from Marc Webb that gives the audience something different than the typical rom-com formula.