Sunday, August 9, 2009
500 Days of Summer
"This is a boy meets girl story. It is not a love story."
So the narrator informs us near the beginning of 500 Days of Summer, a new romantic comedy. It is a romantic comedy in the sense that it is both funny, and about a romance. It is in no way your standard chick flick. In its use of split screens, a musical sequence, and the illustrations placed throughout, it actually has more in common with Annie Hall than it does with any number of Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan movies. Its two stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, are known in the independent film world as two of the brightest talents around, and are certainly not the type of actors you would normally see in a romantic comedy (although they've both been in one before). That, of course, is exactly why they're perfect here, and one of many reasons why this movie is so great.
The boy, Tom, meets the girl, Summer, when she becomes his bosses assistant. They work at a greeting card company, where Tom is a writer, although his real passion is for architecture. The movie actually shows off many sides of Los Angeles that I'd never seen before. It actually looks like a pretty great city, who knew? They kind of intrigue one another, and although she assures him she's not looking for anything more than casual, they begin dating and we see the ups and downs of their relationship, as both friends and lovers, throughout its 500 day course. The tagline on the poster is "Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn't." and that's pretty accurate. Summer makes no apologies about not believing in love, or what I think, not being ready or selfless enough for love, despite Tom being a hopeless romantic who is desperately in love with her. He falls so head over heels in love that he can't help but have his world turned upside down when she says they shouldn't see each other anymore. I'm not giving anything away that doesn't happen in the first few minutes of the movie, by the way.
The movie is told out of sequence, annoyingly so to some I guess, as the couple next to me and my girlfriend audibly complained about it before leaving halfway through. But I enjoyed the way it jumped around, sometimes shifting wildly between moods, often passing hundreds of days between scenes. There's a fun graphic every time, showing us what numbered day it is, with an illustrated backdrop of L.A. giving us a clue as to the upcoming mood of the scene (sunny for happy times, darker or rainy for sad times, and so on). The story is told from Tom's point of view, Summer is mostly kept as a kind of enigma. We know why she doesn't believe in love (her parents divorce scarred her as a child), but we don't know why she does the things that she does. Which is fine, because Tom doesn't know either. She remains somewhat of a mystery to him as well. He never figures her out, and we're not sure she wants to be figured out.
The actors are really something special, with Gordon-Levitt again proving that he is much more of an actor than his days on 3rd Rock from the Sun might've hinted (although I loved him on that show too). With his performances in Brick, Stop-Loss, and especially his incendiary turn in Mysterious Skin, Gordon-Levitt has proven himself to be likely the best actor of his young generation. His work here is just as good as you would expect from him, showing the layers of Tom's pain when Summer hurts him, his understated resentment when she keeps a secret from him, and his infectious happiness when everything is going well. Deschanel, with her big gorgeous eyes, is equally adept at showing Summer's different sides, although we don't get to see as many as we do of Tom's. I love everything about both of their performances, nearly everything about the movie, and I had high expectations going in. It didn't let me down. It will definitely end up on my shortlist of the best movies of the year.