500 Days of Summer bills itself as a story about love, but not a love story. While the movie is filled with romantic moments, it fights the sappy saccharine cliches of typical romantic comedies and instead exudes an indie rock personality far less contrived or cloying than its competitors (see: Juno, Away We Go). The story is deeply personal, and thanks to an especially funny note from the author at the beginning of the film, it’s clear that while the film may be presented from the male perspective, it’s also based in a very heartfelt reality.
Very rarely is there a film that achieves sentimentality, heart and humor so skillfully while still appealing to the very nature of aesthetically pleasing cinematography and set design. While an almost too-long endeavor, 500 Days never loses the charm it rides in on, and manages to highlight its central actors as both quirky characters and compatible romantic leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has matured into a leading man so nicely that when his character looks into his reflection in a car window and sees Han Solo staring back, it’s not that far a stretch. Zooey Deschenel is cute and quirky as ever. The film doesn’t take leaps to justify her characters’ behavior, but as the film is from the male character Tom’s perspective she is presented purposefully as an enigma. Even so neither character in the relationship is painted as stereotype. They’re both given the opportunity to redeem themselves many times, and it’s their missed connections that make the film feel so honest and endearing.
Mostly I can’t get over the screenwriting of the film. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber crafted a screenplay with more time jumps than Star Trek and still managed to create something totally coherent and palatable. The story unfolds almost as a series of steam-of-conscious memories. Your only clue to the chronology is a constantly changing day counter that precedes the scenes, letting you know that even though we just saw day 342, we’ll be hopping back to day 17 for the next scene, just to give you a little perspective. Lesser screenwriters wouldn’t be able to present you with 500 days of a relationship in a single movie, but these guys really nail it on the head. I’m hoping to see a Best Screenplay nomination for both of them.
This is not to say that director Mark Webb doesn’t deserve some accolades as well. The visual style of the movie hangs on that indie rock boundary between chic and twee that often plagues less successful low-budget dramedies. Perhaps the level of polish and precision in this film is the direct result of all the money thrown at it, but if that’s the case then the filmmakers should still be commended for presenting a deep and intimate relationship story that manages to make Los Angeles look slightly less soulless than the average LA portayal. Through these characters eyes, the city is blossoming with romance. It also feels…human. Go figure.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. Even if the romantic thesis of the movie doesn’t gel with you, there’s still a lot of laughter and fun to be had in this particular picture. I look forward to Mark Webb’s next directorial effort, as well as the next efforts by the screenwriters. I look slightly less forward to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portray of Cobra Commander in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie, but if anyone can save that stinking turd from self-destruction maybe it’s him.
P.S. Pink Panther 2? Yeesh. These guys have come a long way.