Rom-Coms Get a Refreshing Spin in (500) Days of Summer
- Friday, July 31, 2009
DVD Release Date: December 22, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: July 31, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual material, sexual situations.)
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Yvette Nicole Brown
The Romantic-Comedy/Drama genre is arguably the most stale in contemporary cinema, so it grabs your attention when a film announces (quite literally, in this case) rather different intentions.
In the opening sequence of (500) Days of Summer, the narrator warns us quite plainly "This is a story of Boy Meets Girl, but you should know up front—this is not a love story." The marketing tweaked that declaration in a more vaguely hopeful way: "This is not a love story. This is a story about love." Yet for such intriguingly subversive goals (and despite occasionally following through on them), this movie is too often reliant on being like so many other rom-coms before it. Sure, it's cute. It's cool. It's even good. But it should be better.
The "Boy" is Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Lookout), a Greeting Card copywriter who's looking for The One. The titular "Summer" is not the season but rather the "Girl" Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, Elf), a new employee at the card company that Tom instantly knows is the one he's been looking for. The 500 Days of Her are shared, experienced and seen from the perspective of Him. As you might expect (and even hope for), it's an emotional rollercoaster of blissful highs, challenging lows and unexpected turns.
While adherence to Romance genre rules and staples lacks the inspiration of its premise, the movie's refreshing spin is found primarily in first-time director Marc Webb's style. Eschewing the standard high-production gloss, cute/plucky tone and standard linear arc, (500) Days of Summer certainly feels different with its indie aesthetic (a more textured visual; a hipster soundtrack rather than Top 40 pop tunes, etc.) and non-linear structure. The story jumps around within their 500 days together, going back-and-forth between good times and bad (and even beginning at a breakup), using that device to effectively mirror how identical events can feel very different at different times, first early in a relationship (exciting and new) and then later (stagnant and old).
Perhaps the most obvious change to formula here is the gender-reversal twist. The "boy" Tom is a romantic who's ready to dive in while the "girl" Summer is the cynic with commitment issues. Tom is emotionally needy while Summer is emotionally guarded. He's over-reactive; she can be a bit clueless. He needs to know "where they're at"; she avoids such definitions (likely out of fear). He's even given the comic-relief best friends to sulk with while she's content keeping a surface distance with those around her. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel wisely stick to their natural masculine and feminine qualities, respectively (he has a natural, cool ease while she is bubbly and vivacious), generating an idyllic chemistry that is effortless and alive, with the glow of a modern-day Rock Hudson/Doris Day.
Yet even within that fresh take, we see a movie that too often falls back and relies on archetypal genre clichés. Too-clever-by-half scripted banter and gossipy emotional venting between friends—even if between men instead of women—is still too-clever-by-half. Contrived moments (Tom actually talks to himself in a mirror—who does that?) are still contrived, and stock characters (like a cute but wise-beyond-her-years grade-school girl whose sole function is to provide Tom sage relationship advice) still exist solely to fill a function rather than be genuine, real people.
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