(500) Days of Summer attempts to create a hybrid of romantic comedies and the indie quirkfests that have come into fashion in the last decade. The result is at times rather sweet, and mostly cute, and will probably appeal to a great number of people. Personally, the film is a little disappointing, its lack of daring symptomatic of an overall frightening trend in cinema. But good performances from the film’s central couple make it a step above most of the Hollywood dreck.
Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt), thanks to sad British pop songs and a skewed interpretation of the movie The Graduate, grew up believing that he would never be truly happy unless he finds “the one.” Summer (Zooey Deschanel) thinks that love doesn’t really exist, and is perfectly content with just doing what she wants. From the moment Summer entered the office as the new administrative assistant, Tom believed that they were meant to be together. And when Summer appears to reciprocate his interest, Tom is incredibly elated. But while Tom thinks it all ends with them as soulmates, Summer is adamant that they’re just friends, leading to much anger, heartbreak and depression.
In a word, the movie is cute. It’s a story about cute people with their cute lives having cute dates in cute places, talking about cute things while a cute song plays in the background. But as with all things that play up the hipster chic, it can teeter over to smug, at times gleefully lambasting a perceived false way of life, taking easy potshots at people who have devoted themselves to something that isn’t quite cool. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the film didn’t end up advocating the same cheesy sentiments it would come to make fun of throughout its runtime. Clash of ideology aside, the story is actually rather appealing, at times offering a sophistication and playfulness not available to your average romantic comedy. At times, it falls into a trap of simply replacing the trappings of the rom com formula with more hipster-y elements, simply giving the goofy best friend and the montages a quirky indie twist. But in a few bright sequences, the film portrays the emotions of its characters in impressionistic methods. It is in these sequences that the filmmaking really comes to fore. This is generally a pretty well shot film, but in the sequences where formula and convention are thrown out the window, we’re just offered a lot more. As it is, the film is rather charming, but in the same way that goofy drunk friend is charming. It’s fun while you’re in the bar, but you probably wouldn’t want to take him home.
You might be inviting the cast over, though. It has long been held that Joseph Gordon Levitt is the most talented American actor of his generation, and though he swings wildly through some of these sequences, the intelligence behind all of the antics is amazingly clear. Zooey Deschanel is just as lovely as she’s always been. One wonders if she has any range at all, but it’s hard to argue with how effortlessly charming she is on screen, making mysteries out of distant glances, drawing in the atmosphere with her smiles. The two make a pretty potent on screen tandem, and one wishes that at the very least, romantic comedies would strive to as good and as interesting a coupling as this.
(500) Days of Summer is a lot better than your average rom com, though not by much in the long run. The film gave itself a lot of chances to deliver something truly profound and memorable, really pushing a better understanding of modern relationships, dodging the clichés of breakups and self-realization. But every time it came close to giving us something truly unique, it often chose to just be cute. That’s not really bad in itself, and the film still deserves praise for some of its more inventive sequences. It’s just that this movie could’ve been a game changer.