(500) Days of Summer is a movie custom made for people who love Belle and Sebastian and The Smiths, Annie Hall and Memento, Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman. It’s a movie, in other words, custom made for me.
I’m not suggesting it’s as good as any of those things… it’s not. But it’s in their spirit and that counts for a lot.
As the dry narration says right up front, it’s a story about a boy and a girl but it’s not a love story. In fact, even that is a little misleading… it’s really a movie about a boy. The girl, Summer (well portrayed by the endearing, sweetly sexy Zooey Deschanel), is more a type than a fully fleshed-out character. And oh, what a type. Casually irresistible, she draws a certain kind of guy in like a magnet through no fault or design of her own. She ‘s never as into you as you’re into her but she’s just vulnerable enough to make you think that might change.
In other words, she’s Trouble-with-a-capital-T, a buzz saw into which the boy, Tom (splendidly played by fine young actor Joseph Gordon Levitt), walks head — and heart — first.
(500) Days of Summer belongs to a rare breed… the chick flick for guys. It’s not a guy flick, in which men act the way men are generally expected to act — think Wedding Crashers, The Hangover or pretty much any Judd Apatow movie. No, it’s about a certain kind of sensitive guy who’s a little more emotional, a little more genuine than we’re used to seeing on screen.
The most recent example of a chick flick for guys I can think of is Garden State, which shares with Summer a quirky central romance, a great indie soundtrack and a hipper-than-thou sensibility that can either hit on all cylinders or rub you the wrong way, depending on — I don’t know — your mood, your personality, your general taste in movies. Garden State didn’t always work for me. I was particularly annoyed by its pat ending. But (500) Days of Summer worked for me pretty much start to finish.
The film is chock full of creative flourishes (some might say gimmicks), from the non-traditional narrative structure — the 500 days in the title are presented out of order — to sequences involving animation, a song-and-dance routine and a split-screen comparison of Tom’s expectations vs. his reality. Just about every one of those choices worked for me… rather than ask why this film decided to use so many of them, I’d prefer to ask why so many other films don’t.
One reason, I imagine, is that it’s easy for a film to be a bit too airy and inventive… suddenly it’s in danger of simply floating away. That’s why you need an anchor and (500) Days of Summer has a great one in the form of Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levitt impressed me in Brick and The Lookout — two very different roles that showed off his dramatic chops — but his Thomas is something even more difficult to pull off… a regular guy. He possesses an easy charm that has you rooting for him from the first scene and throughout the emotional roller coaster that follows.
First-time feature director Marc Webb and first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have created something special right out of the gate. It could be a fluke, but I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody involved in this film comes up with next.