REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer

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(500) Days of Summer
95 Minutes // USA // Fox Searchlight
dir. Marc Webb
Wednesday, June 10th, 2009. Cineplex Varsity.
starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Zooey Deschanel

(500) Days of Summer is the latest indie dramedy to come out of Fox Searchlight – and like all of the features produced by said company, this one is no different. It’ll get a very positive response with outspoken haters; it has two very great performances by up and coming actors; and it has a soundtrack to rival any film out there. So what makes it different? It isn’t a story about love – it’s a story about feeling unrequited love in a “relationship”, begging the question and proposing the theme as “What is love?”. Although the film sifts back and forth between two rival perspectives on the matter it does have clear intentions with an ironic twist at the end leaving the initial question alive and thriving.

The story spans 500 days of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being infatuated with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and their cute little tale. I’ll be bold and say that Summer is a supporting character in this story, as she has no time alone to herself. The entire story is told from Tom’s perspective and Summer is just his main priority for the most part of the film – so although Summer is a prominent character, do not expect balanced roles between Levitt and Deschanel.

Told through a back and forth storyline, (500) Days of Summer avoids a boring linear play by play of events that we know will eventually end to what we assume will happen. Instead, it opens on Tom’s misery at day 288 (or something) and then jumping back to day 44 when Tom and Summer were gleeful – and so on and so forth to keep the viewer vigilant with the “all too easy” plot. And even though the film has a typical plot (apart from Summer being an anti-relationship female in what seems to be a relationship – the screenplay is wonderful. It’s structured well; the dialogue between the characters are funny, and above all, realistic; and the four primary characters are very different to one and other. Of course there are flaws. The main character, Tom isn’t deep emotionally – we get a hint of what’s been troubling him all his life, but it’s unnecessary. Perhaps if they’d cut the “aged 12” scenes behind Summer and Tom, the film would’ve been better, as it’d only be a “here and now” piece rather than tacking an undeveloped background story that is useless at best. What’s worse is Summer’s back story – it seems her only reason for not wanting to get committed in any relationships are because her parents were divorced as a child. To me, it’d be all the more mysterious (the film thrives on mystery in a sense, so it isn’t a ridiculous statement at all) and interesting. Of course, some scenes get tired quickly and (very) few seem out of place, but all in all, the story is a wonderful romp that will affect you emotionally (or should).

The film is most affecting and personal when nothing is said and either music or silence fills the speakers, which is why the deep-voiced narration was intrusive and not at all necessary in such a film. It felt especially unnecessary due to it’s sparse use – which I suppose is a positive because it wasn’t used much. The most impressive scene in the film – which I will speak of in a moment – has no spoken words and shows why sometimes the best words that can be spoken are no words at all.

Also benefiting the film is the direction by the ambitious newcomer Marc Webb. He added plenty of visual flare to the story that could have been quite plainly placed in front of the audience. Whether it was the use of the dorky dance sequence or intriguing parody of French expressionist cinema during Tom’s depression, he really created an atmosphere that won’t soon be forgotten. His best effort in the film – and because of this, the best scene of the film – relies purely on visuals. Backed by hope and despair – this scene holds no dialogue and is thoroughly absorbed by a lightly strummed melody that resonates the meaning of the film. This, of course, is the “Reality vs. Expectations” scene – done with nifty film editing and a subtly tragic sensation, this is by far the best scene of the year… and the closest to tears in a long time.

Like most indie comedies, this is infused with pop-culture references. From Summer’s oddly strong attraction to Ringo Starr, referencing the first chess scene in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, mocking French expressionist cinema, to the “real” meaning behind The Graduate, the story hopes to capture the viewer’s attention with the humorous use of widely known knowledge of pop culture – while keeping it behind the line of pretentious.

Finally, we’ve come to the performances. As always, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is impressive. He has great comic presence and is clearly a very passionate performer – taking everything into account during each take and putting forth a very honest performance that critics and audiences should be. at the very least, intrigued by. His chemistry with Zooey Deschanel is reminiscent of Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard’s in Jeux d’enfants; a very unusual, but endearing mix of an adorable love and seething frustration. With that, Ms. Deschanel also shines – a very peppy and accustomed performance by the young actress, but it’s still a good show of her talents nonetheless. Bringing in hilarious support is Geoffrey Arend who dominates every ounce of screen time he is allowed. This film should bring a lot more notice to these three great actors – lets just hope it does.

All in all, (500) Days of Summer is a top of the line independent feature with enough good to outweigh the bad. It has a few glaring flaws – the lack of character depth – but many more shining aspects to treat the viewer rather than torture; mainly due to Webb’s surprisingly masterful and well versed direction. [8/10]