By Erik Davis, reprint from Sundance 2009
The feel-good, Fox Searchlight-y film of the festival, 500 Days of Summer is like When Harry Met Sally ... if Sally turned around and repeatedly stabbed Harry in the heart with a toothpick. It's an anti-fairytale about a boy who falls head over dress shoes for the kind of girl who doesn't believe in love or fate or any of those cheesy words we often hear mentioned over and over again in this kind of romantic comedy. And yes, 500 Days of Summer comes with its own pop-centric, gotta-get-it-on-iTunes soundtrack, like a Garden State or a Juno or a Wackness. It's sure to draw in a large fanbase full of those seeking a hip, this-is-what-it's-really-like story about the trials and tribulations of a relationship in 2009 -- but if you dig a little deeper, you'll realize it doesn't say anything new about boy meets girl; instead, it wins over its audience with a spoonful of style and a giant helping of visual gimmicks that, honestly, make it a pretty fun flick to watch for an hour and a half.
Yes, we all know there aren't 500 days in summer (the season), so obviously we're talking about a person -- and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the product of divorce; a smart, independent woman who isn't even interested in entertaining the idea of love. Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt), on the other hand, has this bold idea that he's going to one day spot his soul mate and the two will live happily ever after forever and ever and ever. Tom understands this may be a bit unrealistic, but he blames movies, music and television for corrupting his idea of what love should ultimately look like. And yes, those 500 days define the beginning, middle and end of Tom and Summer -- as the film so boldly tells us right up front: this is not a love story.
So what is it, then? Well, it's a romantic comedy that borrows the best of what's come before it while throwing out the shoddy-looking leftovers. Handsome guy looking for love? Check. Pretty girl looking for companionship? Check. Dorky best friends inserted for comic relief? Check. A much wiser-than-her-age little sister inserted as the voice of reason? Check. Split-screen telephone calls? Check. Bad drunk karaoke? Check. All the familiar ingredients are there, and as we jump back and forth between those 500 days -- bouncing from the good to the bad to the awkward and back around again -- we laugh, cry, sigh and sympathize with Tom and Summer because we've all known a Tom or dated a Summer at one point in our lives. And lets face it: We're suckers for movies we can relate to.
While Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel churn out some edgy and excellent indie-centric chemistry, most of the credit here should be given to director Marc Webb for breathing some fresh life into "just another funny relationship flick." Webb, with help from writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, uses his music video background to give the film some color, some pop and some great memorable moments -- like when Tom, post first-time sex with Summer, breaks out into a dance number set to Hall and Oates' You Make My Dreams Come True, or when Webb wisely uses a split-screen to visualize every man's best-case-scenario and worst nightmare together, side-by-side.
500 Days of Summer does not, in any way, re-invent the rom-com wheel; it's not the prettiest, the sexiest or the most hot-to-trot -- but she's a looker and a feeler and way too easy to fall in love with if you give her a little room to work that magic.
And maybe that's a good thing.