(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Continuing from 0-Z we get to (500) Days of Summer, one of my favourite films that falls somewhere in the romantic comedy label.
(500) Days of Summer, as the opening narration explains, isn’t a romance. It isn’t a romantic comedy. It’s a coming-of-age comedy, based around one young man’s relationship. As the opening narration explains, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”
The story, told non-linearly, opens on day 488, with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) sat on a bench, holding hands, a ring on her finger, before flicking to day one, as the opening credits occur. From there the audience has the rug pulled from under their feet, as such, as we jump immediately to day 290, and the end of the relationship, as Tom and Summer have just broken up. Throughout the film we zip forwards and backwards in the relationship, each scene opening with a skyline background, a tree, and a number between 0 and 500 – The view from the park bench where Summer and Tom are sat at the start, and which of the 500 days we’re at. In a lot of films such a framing device could confuse the audience, or turn them off. But here, the non-linearity is what makes 500 Days so great. It makes the film all about the journey – not the ending.
That said, the ending is incredible brave, for a film of this genre, there is not a happy ending, not really. Tom never gets back with Summer. Unlike most romantic comedies, there is no grand gesture, no sudden realisation that this was the one. Instead we have an ending that perfectly fits the film, bittersweet, and yet hopeful.
500 Days is beautifully shot, the cinematograph and direction brilliant. Marc Webber proves his directorial talent throughout, but one scene in particular stands out, where Tom goes to a party at Summer’s place after they have broken up, the split screen utilised to great effect, showing his expectations and reality, and is executed flawlessly. The sense of anger, disappointment and crushing isolation that Tom feels throughout the scene is utterly transpired to the audience, none more so than the close of the scene, as Tom walks down an empty street alone, stopping as the world turns into a sketch, before it is erased around him. The pairing of this scene with Regina Spektor’s Hero just further drives the emotional punch home.
Hall and Oates musical accompaniment to Tom’s ‘stride of pride’ after the first night he spends with Summer, has to be one of my favourite scenes in cinema. It is excellently shot and directed, perfectly capturing Tom’s feelings, while also being very funny – Han Solo’s wink just makes my day, and also proving Webb’s skill as a director, and JGL’s as an actor. For your viewing pleasure:
Fourth wall breaking intercuts of films and documentary further the brilliance of 500 Days, notably with the aforementioned Hall and Oates moment, then Tom alone in the cinema, watching himself on the screen in a French film, suffering. And the documentary, where nearly all the characters are interviewed as to their views on love, and their ideal partner, all of which are both funny and touching. Yet it is what these add to the viewing that further prove Webb’s skill, each side cut giving the audience a deeper view into Tom’s psyche.
Acting wise, the cast are unanimously brilliant, with the leads giving excellent performance, with strong chemistry making the relationship, and it’s breakdown, believable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular carries the film, as the protagonist Tom, and ZD is equally as good; playing Summer convincingly – we believe that she doesn’t feel love, that she doesn’t believe in it. Props must also go to the supporting cast, the consistently great Chloe Grace Moretz is excellent in the role of Tom’s wise beyond her years younger sister, who he turns to for relationship advice.
The soundtrack is excellent, with an eclectic mix of music from a range of artists from Carla Bruni and Hall and Oates to Regina Spektor and The Temper Trap’s Sweet Temptations, each piece a perfect accompaniment to its corresponding scene, but more than that, standing out as an album in itself, one that I found myself listening to since release, and to this day.
I already said this was one of my favourite (quasi) romantic comedies, if not my favourite, and this second viewing has reinforced that. The original story, clever narrative method, characters, comedy, direction, acting, cinematography and soundtrack all unite to provide a must see coming of age tale, that tells the beginning and end of a relationship, and yet still finishes on a hopeful, albeit bittersweet note. 10/10
Side note: I was quite surprised by how many actors from other films and TV shows have smaller roles in this film, that I never realised prior to this repeat watching- we have Caroline from Bones, Shirley from Community, Minka Kelly of Almost Human, and Agent Coulson himself, Clark Greg.