Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chleo Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler
“The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.” So begins a tumultuous tale of love. And pain. (500) Days of Summer does a lot of that. The pain.
Unravelling in a ball of mixed memories, we see the 500 days that make up Tom’s (Gordon-Levitt) relationship with Summer (Deschanel). Tom Hanson wants to be an architect. He makes greeting cards for a living. Into his office walks Summer, the new secretary. As soon as they meet and swap Smiths songs, Tom is convinced: she is the one. Summer isn’t.
Jumping back and forth like a yoyo on a boomerang, 500 Days is a montage of moments; bits of the break-up happen before they make-believe in IKEA ("Honey, there's a Chinese family in our bathroom!"). Bookmarked by scribbled drawings, it’s a charming, stylised structure. With segments lasting from 15 seconds to 15 minutes, the result is something quite bitty, but intentionally so; writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber expect us to keep up and reward us with a playful, unique take on romance. Switching from cute cliché to hard-hitting honesty, it’s like Memento, but happy.
At its core, an incredible couple: seamlessly melding together, Tom and Summer fit snugly into each other’s lives. Their ill-fated fling should be the ideal match. Vulnerable and wounded, Tom’s happiness is tinged with grief; his weathered face carrying bags of emotion, he’s a likeable lead to follow. When he’s happy, he even dances down the street to Halls and Oates without ever losing our support.
The crux of the film hangs on believing Tom’s notion that Summer is the most perfect woman in the whole world. I have no problem with that. Bubbly, offbeat, attractive and independent, she never asks for what Tom wants. She functions with a clear head, perfectly happy to shout out “penis” in the park before moving on with her life. Zooey's kooky love interest is perfectly judged - no surprises there. She’s done it before, but she does it so well.
First-time director Marc Webb does a masterful job of holding it all together. Painting an idiosyncratic piece, with visual flourishes and confident pacing, he’s not afraid to refer to Fellini or Bergman, or split the screen up to show us Tom’s suffering. Mixing up convention – an overly wise younger sister, Rachel (Moretz) – with creativity, the result is a breathtaking burst of talent.
The only problem is its overly earnest tone, a script convinced that it’s telling us something new. When Harry Met Sally-style voxpops don’t help much. Greetings cards are lies? Love hurts? It’s stuff we know already, but the wonderful cast and daring direction stop it going stale. It’s not as profound as it thinks, but its patchy, unpredictable prose is personal and poetic. The flaws, even more so.
Bitter, glum, yet frequently funny, (500) Days of Summer is completely beguiling. Sweet and shot through with pain, it’s a beautiful anti-sonnet of rejection.
Read our interview with (500) Days director Marc Webb over here.