What I've Got's Full Stock of Thoughts and Dreams that Scatter
You’re going to hate 500 Days of Summer.
Wait. Let me back up and restate that. In 456 days from now, you’re going to hate 500 Days of Summer. We first mentioned 500 Days of Summer on the site about two months ago. Let’s call that day one. On day one, you were just getting to know the movie. You knew it starred Zooey Deschanel — who you like off and on, depending on the role and just how pixie she is - and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who impressed the hell out of you in Brick and Mysterious Skin and, by rights, should be well ahead of Zac Efron on the “next big Hollywood leading man” chart.
That makes today Day 62. On Day 62, you read the review for 500 Days of Summer and, though the gimmick employed by the critic was a tad too twee, you were nevertheless excited about the prospect of seeing the movie. It is, after all, the best indie romance since Eternal Sunshine of the Mind, a movie that fills you with that helium-like affection and a movie that will alternate between playing your heart strings like Eddie Van Halen on a coke bender and Yo Yo Ma covering a Beth Orton ballad. Jumping around chronologically, 500 Days of Summer tracks the rise, the fall, and the possible rise again of Tom (Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card maker with an architecture background, and Summer (Deschanel), an assistant in the greeting card company.
It’s a story about love, but it’s not a love story. Tom falls hard for Summer, but Summer - for reasons unexplained at first — is slightly detached. She wants to keep it casual. We know from the outset that they break up at least once, on day 288. And we see the days leading up to the break-up, which are intercut with the days subsequent to it, a brilliant chronological device that allows us to see the long-term consequences of a certain statement or gesture in a more immediate sense. Tom and Summer’s relationship travels from the idle talk of two co-workers who obviously have an affection for one another through the courtship and up to the relationship’s more cemented status before the floor is pulled out from under Tom. Then it explores the stages of heartbreak - the denial, the deconstruction, the wallowing self-pity, and the attempts to resurrect the relationship. But it does so without ever getting maudlin — 500 Days of Summer remains a breezy fast and emotionally exuberant film from the first minute to the last.
If I’m not doing a particularly good job of explaining 500 Days of Summer, it’s because it’s not an easy movie to describe. Try explaining to a friend why you’re in love with your significant other. You might say, “She’s beautiful; she’s got a great sense of humor; she’s wicked intelligent; and she has a great rack,” but this won’t do your significant other justice. They’re just words, and words rarely stack up to the effervescent giddiness you feel when you’re falling in love, or the crushing heartache an unexpected end to relationship can often leave. 500 Days of Summer, like few movies I’ve ever seen, accurately captures the range of emotions that accompany falling in love and then having your heart shattered. And while the dialogue is witty, and real, and funny, and smart, it’s director Marc Webb’s attention to the details that make 500 Days of Summer such a deeply authentic movie. There are a lot of movie about love, and even more that think they are, but very few successfully capture that helpless uncertainty attendant to a new relationship — the overwhelming need to pin it down, to label it, to gain a sense of security, to know that what he or she is feeling is not fleeting.
You’re already falling in love with it a little, aren’t you? When you see 500 Days of Summer, you’re going to fall heels pinned to head in love with it. It’s going to take a bicycle pump to your heart and expand it three sizes and then it’s going to cut you. And you’re going to laugh the whole way through. On Day 150, you’re going to see it again. By Day 200, you will have told all your friends about it, and they will have seen it twice. Suddenly, this little indie romance you heard about on a movie review website won’t feel like yours anymore. Everyone else will have seen it, and that will diminish some of the intimacy. By Day 325, friends of yours who forgot that you told them about the movie will come up to you, after seeing 500 Days of Summer on DVD, and recommend it to you, tell you how great it is, how it seems like a movie you’d really love. And you’ll be, like, “No shit. I told you about that movie six months ago.” And as this movie gets bigger and bigger, and as even people you despise fall in love with it, too, you’ll start to feel a little resentment toward it. By Day 375, the backlash will be in full force — a small, but vocal minority of cynical jackasses on that same website that first told you about the movie will start to rant about how 500 Days of Summer is too clever for its own good, that it’s too precious or whimsical or quirky or offbeat, and the voice of that vocal minority will drown out your own once-great affection for the movie. And by Day 456, you will absolutely despise 500 Days of Summer. You will jump on the backlash bandwagon. You will scream, “Overrated!” from the rooftops. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s newfound fame will irritate the hell out of you.
But on Day 498, 500 Days of Summer will air on television late one night while you’re alone, and you’ll watch it for the first time since you saw it the second time in the theater (your DVD copy remains unopened). And you’ll fall completely in love with it all over again — you’ll remember what it was about the movie that felt so honest and true and relatable and heartbreakingly beautiful, and everyone else will have moved on to the next big Zeitgestian film, and the intimacy you once felt for 500 Days of Summer will return. You may even quietly appreciate it more than you once did, because in the last 498 days, things have happened in your romantic life that made 500 Days speak to you even more than it once had. And the next morning, while you’re at brunch with friends, you’ll remark, “I forgot how much I love 500 Days of Summer. It’s such a funny, powerfully moving romantic film.” And some guy sitting across from you, scarfing down a steak-tip omelet and sweating from all the Tabasco sauce he poured onto it, will reply, “Overrated!”
And you will retort, simply, “You’re an idiot.”
This review was originally published during the Boston International Film Festival.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.
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