[500] Days of Summer review

Five_hundred_days_of_summerI should get this out of the way right now: I think most romantic comedies (or “Rom-coms” or whatever cheesy label people are attaching to the genre these days) are terrible. There are exceptions, which may or may not involve Ryan Reynolds in starring roles, but for the most part this is a genre I hold in contempt. After seeing the cinematic abomination that was The Ugly Truth; a movie so terrible that my attempts to pen a review of it were all laden with obscenities and very mean words, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to accept another romantic comedy into my life. This just gives even more gravity to the incoming praise. Brace yourself, but I think [500] Days of Summer might be one of the finest movies I ever seen.

The film explores the relationship of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in a non-chronological sequence. The movie knows what the viewer is thinking: “Oh, the boy meets the girl and they fall in love, how trite.” The narrator is quick to explain to the contrary, telling the audience, “Though this is a story of ‘boy-meets-girl, this is not a love story.” From this moment on, snippets of their relationship are presented to the viewer (out of sequence) with each scene assigned a day out of the titular 500. From the moment Tom and Summer meet at work, they fall in love, they fight, they go on dates, they live out their daily life. They explore what love is and how people are supposed to make any sense of it. It’s more interesting than I’m making it sound, honestly.

I’m not going into further detail regarding the plot. Forgive me for being blunt, but as of this writing the plot summary on the Film’s Wikipedia page is roughly as long as the book of Genesis. You’re welcome to go there if you want to know every detail of the plot, including several directly-quoted lines. No, this isn’t a movie you want to spoil for yourself. Walking into this movie with no expectations and being subsequently dazzled is an integral part of the experience; knowing at any point what could happen next would take that feeling away.

The film owes much of its luster to the incredible performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt’s perfect take on the idealistic, awkward and lovesick Tom is very believable, and many people will likely feel a connection to this character and his seemingly impossible struggle. Deschanel gives a quality performance, albeit a bit similar to many of her recent roles. Her skill is remarkable, as the quirky love-interest Summer seems almost real. I think I, too, fell in love with her for but a moment. A small supporting cast of unique characters lend the film much of its humor, but they’re just the snacks between the real meat of the flick, or the main course, or some other food-based metaphor.

A great soundtrack featuring Regina Spektor, Feist and The Smiths adds more to the film than one would expect. The movie likes to emphasize how characters are feeling with music, and the music always fits the mood. Special effects are used very tastefully, being reserved for a few split-second gags and an artistic montage here and there. The cinematography, done by Eric Steelberg, is handled more artistically than in typical romantic comedies, with a lot of focus devoted to faces so as to capture subtle changes in expression. There are no graphic sex scenes, and not even partial nudity. This is a classy affair. There are also a few nice shots of Los Angeles, which are pretty, but not terribly interesting.

What makes this movie so special is how well the component parts come together to create a unique experience. I almost feel guilty calling it a romantic comedy, because the term has become so closely entwined with mediocrity that it almost cheapens this wonderful film by association.

However, after the credits rolled, I was stunned. Not just impressed, but temporarily immobilized by the sheer quality of it. I staggered out of the theater, trying to tell my friends what I thought, but I couldn’t put my thoughts to words. A stream of adjectives would spill out of my mouth, unaccompanied by necessary nouns and verbs. They all seemed to be encountering a similar problem. It was as if we’d all ascended to a higher stream of consciousness, where nobody made any sense but everyone understood everybody else. I can’t say this enough: Go see this movie. It’s something everyone can enjoy, a rarity in romantic comedies. I’d like to let this glowing praise speak for itself, but a rating is a sort of pragmatic bulk you need to include in a film review. Out of necessity, I give this film…

**** (out of 4 stars)