Sunday, August 9, 2009

Film Review - (500) Days of Summer

From my monthly column in Austin Family Magazine, the first of many features on current film releases.

This is not a love story. This is a story about love.

So says the tagline for 500 Days of Summer, directed by Marc Webb, and the tagline couldn’t be more correct. Here is an original film with all of the charm of a regular romantic comedy, but none of the tired conventions or superficial happiness. Webb has directed a modern-day companion piece to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) – yes, the film is a comedy, and yes, there is a romance, but nobody said it had to end happily. The title even indicates that the relationship between Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) has a finite amount of time attached to it.

Gordon-Levitt is superb as Tom, an aspiring architect who makes his living by writing Hallmark greeting cards. The film recounts the 500 days he is in love with Summer, a new assistant at the greeting card company.

The film shows their relationship in non-chronological order, sometimes presenting a scene of resentment between the two lovers, and then proceeding backward to a jubilant dance number as Tom rejoices in having finally won the affections of his love.

The tragedy for Tom, then, comes from Summer’s views on love, which are drastically different from his romantic ideals. A great scene shows Tom and Summer watching The Graduate (1967) in a theater, and each expressing totally different reactions to the ending of the film. Tom is overjoyed that Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson end up together, while Summer cries distraughtly, perhaps taking note that the ending to The Graduate is not exactly what it seems.

Rarely does a film so accurately depict real-world heartache and the highs and lows of romance with the supposed ‘one.' One standout sequence uses split-screen to show both Tom’s expectations for an encounter with Summer, and the reality of the situation – a flashy cinematic device that would ring false if 500 Days of Summer wasn’t so keenly observant about the illusion-versus-reality symptom that distorts the expectations of so many lovelorn males.

And yes, I do mean males. The film is told mostly from Tom’s point-of-view, and examines the hurt for which Summer is ultimately responsible. That isn’t to say that the film condemns Summer – Deschanel makes her a loveable, mysterious character – but 500 Days of Summer is the sort of movie that must be one-sided, in Tom’s favor, in order to truly evoke the pain of rejection from an unattainable love. This isn’t a misogynist statement; rather, a statement based on the idea that there are, in fact, many relationships in which a na├»ve young man is brokenhearted by a beautiful girl for no apparent reason.

More importantly, though, the film captures everything about complex relationships that formulaic romantic comedies couldn’t dream of exploring – the loss, the confusion, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the joy, the power, the incredulity, the love. Like it's much older cinematic cousin Annie Hall (1977), 500 Days of Summer gets everything right, and hits a nerve in this young male adult who has laughed and cried throughout all 500 days of someone.

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