Friday, July 31, 2009
(500) Days of Summer
It’s one of the hardest things in life. You’re in love with someone and everything seems to be going fine and then you find out that that someone doesn’t feel the same way about you. Am I speaking from experience? I’ll let you guess. Whatever the case, Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer realistically addresses that scenario with a vibrant style and a light sense of humor by following the days of Tom Hansen’s relationship Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) – the girl of his dreams – or so he thinks. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a romantic who believes strongly in fate – that there’s a special someone waiting for him. Summer, however, is more cynical about those issues and makes it clear from the beginning that she’d just like to enjoy the moment, have fun, and not complicate the relationship with serious commitments.
The film’s most clever device is not following the days of Tom and Summer’s relationship chronologically. The numerical counter that precedes many scenes might indicate a day at the sad ending of the relationship. Then the film jumps to earlier scenes. We are able to see where this twosome is going and what points clearly indicate the road to breakup, and the contrasts between earlier and later days provide much humor. We’ve seen plenty of films that cover the fateful meeting, the gradual falling in love, the passionate moments, the frictions, the breakup, the painful aftermath, but spreading out the scenes non-chronologically puts a fresh face on a hackneyed genre.
Other devices make (500) Days of Summer a fun film to watch. When Tom starts to feel like he’s losing Summer, he sees himself in various heavy foreign films – one reminiscent of Jules and Jim, another in imitation of The Seventh Seal. In bright contrast, after Tom has made love to Summer for the first time, he walks down the street and ends up in a sappy musical production number, complete with marching band and animated bird. After Tom breaks up with Summer, and she invites him to a party, we see him climbing the stairway to the apartment in split screen: one side is “expectations” and the other side is “reality.” When we see his romantic wishful thinking juxtaposed with images of the sad, hurtful truth, the result is touchingly realistic. In addition, when we learn that Tom saw The Graduate at a young age and misinterpreted the ending, taking it to mean that we are all destined to meet that right person for us, footage from the final scene plays an integral part in showing that perhaps Tom and Summer see life too differently to be together, and Simon & Garfunkel’s poignant "Bookends" accompanies a montage of flashbacks that juxtaposes moments of cheerful togetherness with moments of doubtful division. In fact, that montage is a simple concept that is brilliantly employed.
As for the performances of Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt, whatever it is that they do makes them very convincing as individuals, and very realistic as a couple, and we can more easily identify with their characters than if they had been played by glamorous, big-name performers. Gordon-Levitt convincingly displays his love for Summer, and we’ve seen plenty of montages following the brokenhearted lover, but Gordon-Levitt always makes it fun. I like when he goes to the liquor store in this bathrobe to buy snack cakes and whiskey and then shuffles down the sidewalk, expressing his bitterness to a passing couple. Meanwhile, gorgeous eyes are all that Deschanel needs to show us what attracts Tom to Summer, but she is also excellent at letting us see what she holds back from the relationship even while she seems to be enjoying it.
Although the film is chiefly light in tone, Tom learns a hard lesson. He sees how he misinterpreted Summer’s character and misread the signals she gave him, though, at times, he is somewhat misled as well. Perhaps the film should have ended before the hopeful scene in which he meets someone else. Is she the person meant for him? The scene seems fabricated to end the story on a happy note but possibly an ambiguity is intended. In the same way the final shots of Ben and Elaine in The Graduate suggest doubt, perhaps this scene suggests that Tom might once again fall in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about him. Tom might be one of those passionate romantics who need to have their hearts crushed repeatedly before they learn to be more careful. Am I speaking from experience? I’ll let you guess.