Review: “(500) Days of Summer” (2009)

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Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

"It's love. Not Santa Claus."

Yes, this is the second rom-com film I’ve seen in a row this week. No, I’m not undergoing some romantic conundrum. To provide a bit of backstory, I’ve been trying to watch Jacques Audiard’s “Un prophete” piecemeal, as it is rather violent, and I am notoriously squeamish (similarly, it took me a long time to get through “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which was beautiful but just so hard to watch). To recover in between bouts, I’ve been cleaving to rom-coms as lighthearted fare. Hence the back-to-back rom-coms. But just like “TiMER,” “(500) Days of Summer” may be lighthearted, but it’s no lightweight.

The story revolves around a couple whom we meet at the end of their relationship. Tom, a greeting card writer and aspiring architect, resolves to win back Summer, his boss’s former assistant whom he’d been enamored of from the very beginning. Unfortunately, she could never match his enthusiasm for their sorta relationship. For as much as he was invested in their couplehood, she was doggedly noncommital. To his “I love us” she had her “We’re just friends.” The film jumps back and forth through the 500 days of their relationship from Tom’s point of view, which is blinded by its own sunniness. He has memories of him at Ikea with Summer pretending to be a couple, him dancing as if in a musical after having consummated their non-relationship, him drawing buildings on her arms to show her the beauty of the architecture around them. But when he starts to look closely, he discovers the chinks in the armor that had always been there from the very start of the relationship. This is brought into stark relief by a clever use of a split screen showing on one side a scenario based on his expectations running concurrently with the actual reality he experiences. In the end, his pursuit of winning back Summer leads to only a repeat of his initial heartbreak when he finds out Summer, the woman who always staunchly proclaimed her preference for the non-serious, is herself getting married. She tells Tom she’d grown to understand his firm belief in the idea of a soulmate; but sadly, her soulmate just wasn’t and couldn’t be him. Disillusioned, Tom picks up the pieces by deciding to pursue a career in architecture. He takes on Summer’s former disavowal of the magic of love, but only briefly, because he meets rather serendipitously a woman named Autumn–with whom, we find out, he will start a new relationship. With Summer having passed, so to speak, this would be “Day 1” of Autumn.

Just wonderful. Such a beautiful collage of the days that comprise a relationship. I feared initially that with the voice-over narrator and the disjointed flashes backwards and forwards and the precocious little sister I’d be in for one too-gimmicky ride. But everything works in such a natural way; the pieces of the collage just fall into place.

Zooey Deschanel’s character here may perhaps be a bit too reminiscent of her role in “Gigantic” (which Roger Ebert also pointed out in his review of the film from last year), but somehow I don’t mind the rehash, the seeming one-note-ness. Her Summer is the perfect combination of being both adorable and hateable. As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I had my reservations as it’s always hard for me to buy the fact that he’s not a teenager. But he pulls off the essence of Tom so well:  brooding, sensitive, romantic, and ultimately hopeful.

Co-screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter

Highest praise to co-writers Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter for their quirky (but not gratingly so like, say, “Juno”) screenplay. They have here a delightful, entertaining, cleverly plotted, and fully-realized story. Did I mention funny, too? (I often forget the “comedy” component of romantic comedies because there tends to be not any of it in many of these films).

Go rent this cute and inspired non-rom-com rom-com if you haven’t already!

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