500 Days of Summer
There are some movies that test the boundaries of conventional cinema, forcing you to examine the clichés and conventions that happen in larger mainstream productions; and then there’s 500 Days of Summer, the well known music video director Marc Webb’s first foray into feature films, which plays out like one of the same, similar dependencies on one-dimensional premises and injected angst still intact.
Set in a non-linear narrative, the story pieces together the romance of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architect and hopeless romantic who due to his own lack of any significant self-esteem ends up writing greeting cards, and Summer (Zoey Deschanel), the new girl in the office who doesn’t believe in love. Despite Summer’s outward refusal to get into anything serious, Tom presses on, essentially trying to change her mind whilst telling himself that this is fate.
We’re told it’s not a love story, and to a certain extent that’s a fair assessment, considering it is told from Tom’s perspective, but as with this entire project, it’s quirkiness ends up shooting itself in the foot because they’ve already changed the standard male-female dynamic of most romantic comedies.
Most will recognize that there are two schools of romantic comedies; the Christian school where there is a physical barrier that the couple must overcome to end up together in the final act; and the Jewish school with it’s most famous auteur Woody Allen, where there are internal issues at fault, essentially neurotic tendencies that stop them being together. 500 Days attempts in vain to fit into the latter but due again to this “quirkiness” they keep pushing on us, it can’t even commit to that. We’re told Tom grew up believing in love everlasting due to a stable home and watching too many movies whilst Summer saw a broken home and realised that romance was essentially an illusion but neither of these are complete enough for them to base strong life views. If either character could actually make it to their late 20s without at some stage developing a more rational and well rounded understanding of relationships, they’re more than a little bit sheltered.
Further convoluting matters, the story is only told from Tom’s perspective and as such there is almost no development in Summer’s character, for all intensive purposes allowing Deschanel to look pretty and act rather brittle for the entire movie, something extremely unfortunate considering how up front she and her character were, but this is because with so little time given to the actual romance, told only through key points in how Levitt’s character saw it going well and then even more time spent watching him pity himself, there’s little time for any real catharsis; sixty percent of this movie (or at least the 500 days if you note where everything goes wrong and where they restart) is Tom feeling sorry for himself, irrationally so.
As a result, the ending is rushed, trying to force a conclusion without actually altering Tom’s perception of reality, his rose coloured glasses remaining completely intact with a surge in well worn romantic ideals of co-dependency flooding in to fill the void.
It’s a shame that we’re forced to view Tom’s world in the end, where his happiness is dependent on each relationship that comes to him, a sign of fate supposedly forcing him to fall in love at the drop of a hat with every woman, evidently terrified to be alone because it is Summer’s extreme resistance to conformity like Levitt’s that could have said something new; a woman happy to be alone but never completely closed off to opportunity. Sadly though, instead we’re fed tired vehicles of convention dressed up as new and exciting, when in fact they’re nothing of the sort.