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Entries in (500) Days of Summer [2009] (1)


(500) Days of Summer (2009)

(Hopeless)ly in Love

Gene Siskel once said that a movie is not what it’s about, but how it’s about it. (500) Days of Summer is the rare film that requires two kinds of reviews: one objective, one subjective.

I wasn’t on board with the film’s premise, which tracks the span of the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a love-starved greeting card writer, and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), an emotionally unavailable flake who Tom believes to be the love of his life. The movie flashes forward and backward, mixing up day four—on which they meet—with day 344—on which they’re broken up, but not really, finally so. I don’t doubt that there are desperate man-children who will put up with mental abuse and consistent heartbreak by a woman who gives him frequent, obvious signs (while still stringing him along, out of boredom)—I just don’t want to watch them for an hour-and-a-half when all of his problems could be solved with a simple, “I’m annoying; you’re annoying; let’s not speak anymore.”

So that’s the subjective issue, and I understand that it’s mine alone. Objectively, how does the movie play? Sadly, not very well.

The movie is undeservedly smug. It’s drenched in a sort of knowing irony that is meant to evoke laughs from hipsters (I guess), but that merely serves to stall the plot and astound the non-suckers in the audience with a clown-car’s worth of tired quirk clichés. From the wise-old-man narrator to the fantasy dance number sequence in a park (which proves that screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have seen 9 to 5 and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) to Summer’s heart-shaped birthmark, (500) Days of Summer plays like really bad teen poetry (or just teen poetry).

Brief sidebar: why is Peter Parker’s impromptu dance number in Spider-Man 3 considered the death knell of a franchise, but Tom’s dancing with an animated bluebird is supposedly a lively and inventive stroke of genius? Sorry, back to the review...

The one sequence that’s executed well is a split-screen trip to a party at Summer’s apartment, in which we see Tom’s expectations on the left and his reality on the right. Director Marc Webb makes those three minutes sing by laying off the wackiness and going casual. If the rest of the picture had been as subtle and honest as that moment, the film might have been really special.

Instead, we’re treated to speech after speech about how pointless love is and how everyone feels the need to label everything; it’s just inauthentic noise that smacks of young, coffee-shop liberals who don’t know thing one about true love (it A. exists and B. is amazing, but not easy). Now, I don’t mind watching a movie that challenges my beliefs, but I need either a compelling argument or at least sharp, insightful dialogue to hold my interest (unfortunately, the “comedy” in this film is telegraphed sitcom pabulum; no offense to people who consider spit takes to be the best that indie screenwriters can deliver).

I would love to see an honest romantic comedy/drama featuring the lead actors from this film, as shot by the same director, but in the service of a story that actually says something about modern romance. And, no, there’s nothing wrong with a traditional three-act Hollywood structure that favors meets-cute over funky time jumping—as long as the writing and performances hold up.

In fairness, the movie begins by informing us that it is not a love story. But it’s also not a story about any people I’ve ever met, nor would I like to get to know. Tom’s puppy-dog desperation wears thin by the second time Summer tells him their relationship isn’t going to evolve past the “friends-with-benefits” stage; by the fifth time, I really just wanted to turn the movie off. (500) Days of Summer is the romantic comedy equivalent of torture porn.