(500) Days of Summer
From it's very start, "(500) Days of Summer" wants to be honest with us. Those of us expecting a traditional romantic comedy are in for something else. "This is not a love story," a nameless narrator tells us. "This is a story about love." I for one, could not have loved the resulting film more.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Brick") is a man in his late twenties who firmly believes in love though he's never experienced it for himself. His notions of it we are told, came from a childhood of, "listening to sad British pop bands from the eighties and a total misreading of the movie 'The Graduate.'" Tom first meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) on the elevator at work while listening to one of said "British pop bands." "I love the Smiths," Summer remarks to him. And just like that Tom's infatuation with the new girl in the office has begun.
Tom does not have an easy time getting to know Summer, a woman who does not believe in love and finds it cute and somewhat pathetic that Tom does. "It's love, it's not Santa Claus," he insists. Even as things slowly develop between the two Summer tells him, "I'm not really looking for anything serious right now," and though Tom hears her words they are no match for his feelings.
"(500) Days" is told in a non-linear order and for once that does not feel like a gimmick. As the film unfolds it's very clear that it was told this way for a reason. It reflects on the ups and downs of their time together and apart in the way our own minds work. We remember things in pieces, sorted in a disparate way. Some moment early on in getting to know someone can end up illuminating a moment or event much later on in ways we could have never imagined, which is why we may not really give that early moment any thought for a very long time. This also manages to help the film maintain a consistency of tone. Even as we're going from a heartbreaking moment on day 290 back to the joys of day 28 the movie maintains a steady feel. This is a very funny film, even in many of its moments of sadness, and it is always real. Even an impromptu dance sequence that includes a moment so hilarious I dare not spoil it for you is completely genuine. "(500) Days of Summer" doesn't have a false moment in it because it's honest not just about how life is but how life feels.
Written by relative newcomers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by first time feature director Marc Webb, "(500) Days of Summer" is simply outstanding storytelling. It manages to be an original and refreshing independent film without ever falling into the trap of being "quirky" or full of dialogue that sounds like a poor imitation of Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufmann. The performances of Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are completely spot on. These are two very talented actors who have had some opportunities to shine in the past but here they excel in ways that never cease to impress. Gordon-Levitt's Tom is endlessly relatable while Deschanel's Summer is always difficult to read and impossible to predict. So much is communicated with glances and facial expressions and their finest moments each come in a scene in which we see Tom's expectations of an evening shown against the reality. It's a scene that rings painfully true and seeing the way each plays the scenes shown in split-screen (also not gimmicky in this film) is a testament to their enormous talents, as well as the script by Neustadter and Weber.
In a year that has already seen some wonderful films ("Up," "Away We Go," "The Brothers Bloom," "Adventureland"), "(500) Days of Summer" is easily my favorite movie of 2009. It is a pretty much perfect movie that does not ask that you be a fan of the romantic comedy genre, but if you are get ready for something special.
"(500) Days of Summer" is currently in limited release. In the Seattle area it's playing at the Guild 45th, Pacific Place, and at Bellevue's Lincoln Square. As always, I recommend the Guild. 10/10.
Now here's a little taste.