It is not a secret that there is a formula for romantic comedies. Sure some films take liberties with the formula and attempt to mix it up but in the end, the guy always gets the girl (or the girl the guy) and everyone lives happily ever after. “500 Days of Summer” does not follow this tried and true formula and I would go so far as to classify it as an unromantic comedy. The film is a story about Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his 500 day relationship with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). It sounds formulaic enough on paper but Tom does not get the girl and the film tells you this in the first minutes.
Tom is a romantic and believes in love at first sight. Summer does not share his romantic ideals. However the two become romantically entwined after a night of drunken karaoke (isn’t that always the way) and the film seems to be taking us down the standard romantic comedy formula. There is even a mass dance number to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”, complete with an animated bird, that visualizes Tom’s new found love for Summer. Despite the film telling me at the outset that Tom would not end up with Summer I could not help but think it was lying to me. After all who makes a romantic comedy where the two main characters (and a few secondary characters) don’t fall in love with each other and live happily ever after?
Director Marc Webb doesn’t just play with the formula for a romantic comedy though as “500 Days of Summer” is told through a disjointed style that jumps between different timelines within those 500 days to tell its story. At one point we could be at day 346 where Tom could be in a deep depression about losing Summer and the next moment we are at day 46 where the two are in the beginning stages of their relationship. On paper it makes little sense but in practice it does a better job of having the viewer understand and relate to Tom than if we were to have seen the events chronologically.
The key to any romantic comedy though is to have likable characters and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel do a wonderful job as Tom and Summer. Their performances are two of the best I’ve seen this year thus far. Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as the lovestruck and then heartbroken protagonist and he feels more real than any character I’ve encountered in theaters this year. He has real issues that have real consequences for both him and those around him.
“500 Days of Summer” is not (as previously stated) a romantic comedy. Some people will leave the theater hating Summer, in fact I heard a lot of this sentiment as I left the theater with my wife and friends. The two of us just kind of looked at each other and smiled because the fact is that “500 Days of Summer” is a movie about real life, real relationships and ultimately real love. It is smart, funny and pulls on the emotional tethers that everyone has. The film never feels cheap and while it does have what can be construed as a happy ending, its not the one you expect the entire time you watch the film. It is not your typical summer comedy, in fact its probably one of the heaviest comedies to be released all year. But what “500 Days of Summer” is though, is a very good movie.
4 out of 5
It should also be noted that I loved the soundtrack in the movie. It’s filled with licensed music including the aforementioned Hall & Oates “You Make My Dreams” and ranging from The Smiths to Wolfmother. The music is beautifully integrated into the film and is probably the second best soundtrack in a film this year next to “Adventureland”.