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500 Days of Summer

January 14, 2012

500 Days of Summer (2009)
Director: Marc Webb
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend

500-days.jpg (275×183)

Synopsis: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) – work colleagues at a greeting card company in LA – embark on a relationship….

Review: That most worn of genres – the romantic comedy – gets the highest of high concept treatments in director Marc Webb’s bittersweet portrayal of the life-cycle of a twenty-something relationship in modern-day LA. The very title – 500 Days of Summer – as well as being a direct and evocative mandate for the movie’s subject matter, also betrays the filmmakers’ aspiration to jam-pack the movie with as much wit and irony as possible, being a pun on the name of the female protagonist – Summer Finn. The whole film is pretty much a non-stop assault of similar conceits, and much like a stand-up comedian racing through their array of quickfire jokes on an audience, the hit/miss ratio of 500 Days of Summer is fairly evenly split.

To focus on the negative elements first: the tactic of having the narrative flit around random times in the relationship (as indicated by scenes opening on what number day they detail) is not especially original or radical, and doesn’t add much insight to why some relationships fail – although admittedly there is a dash of poignancy in juxtaposing the sad ending to a relationship versus its happy start (Francois Ozon had a similar structure for his 5×2). The film’s need to wear its ‘quirky’ heart on its sleeve also grates: from the passé animated sequences, to the conceit of having Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lead work in a greeting card company – meaning that every stage of the relationship can be ‘ironised’ by the latest message he writes on his cards.

The film works best in spite of those confections, because at its heart are some decent truisms about relationships. Much of this is due to the natural rapport between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and the times where the filmmakers have realised they don’t need another ‘cool’ 80s pop tune to engender emotion but some well-written dialogue and the space for the characters and relationship to breathe in an eminently recognisable contemporary landscape. My only other minor quibble with the film is its late failure of nerve in trying too neatly to wrap up Gordon-Levitt’s love-life by hinting at a new possible lady in his life when he goes to an interview. Though one could argue that this embellishes the film’s thesis of relationships being cyclical, I disagree and feel the filmmakers lost an opportunity to honour the bittersweet flavour of much of rest of the film by playing against expectations that Gordon-Levitt can so neatly and tidily move on to the next bit of ‘hot stuff’ he chances upon. (January 2012)

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