Film review – (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel)
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel)

Summer Finn is one of those It Girls. She’s attractive, unconventional, intelligent and rebellious. It’s no wonder that Tom Hansen falls for her. While Tom abandoned his dream to become an architect and has since worked as a greeting card writer, Summer is a free spirit who seems to do what she wants. Unfortunately for Tom part of what makes Summer such a breath of life is her refusal to ever be defined as being in a relationship. Hence, the 500 days that Summer is a part of Tom’s life are both exhilarating and devastating for him. Summer is the woman of his dreams but her dismissive attitude towards the idea of true love is forever hanging over his head.

(500) Days of Summer has everything that you could want from a film that is quite consciously in the mould of a typical American indi. It contains unconventionally attractive yet extremely charismatic stars, music by undisputedly cool bands (including The Smiths, Pixies, Doves), ironic music (Halls and Oats, that song Patrick Swayze sings on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack), a non-linear narrative, a self referential narrator, pastiches to European New Wave cinema and The Seventh Seal, and various visual gimmicks such as split screen. However, far from being contrived (with the exception of the horrible wise-beyond-her-years little sister character), all these elements work and the result is a highly entertaining film.

5DOS-05500_scaled(500) Days of Summer combines the bitter-sweet romantic whimsy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with a marvellous reinvention on some of cinema’s oldest clichés. After Tom first sleeps with Summer it cuts to a scene of him being all happy and carefree the next morning. It’s a gag that has been done so many times before but it escalates into a full-blown public song and dance routine that includes an animated bird landing on Tom’s shoulder. It’s a sequence that reeks of hip irony but director Marc Webb fills these moments with such energy that you are completely won over. In fact, (500) Days of Summer is a brilliant example of how to repackage tried and tested ideas to make them feel fresh and original again. It is a film that also miraculously manages to subvert generic expectations in one way while also completely confirming them in another. (500) Days of Summer manages to both have its cake and eat it too.

Casting Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man, The Happening, Bridge to Terabithia) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Stop-Loss, Brick, Mysterious Skin) has a lot to do with the film’s success. Summer is the perfect role for Deschanel to channel her quirky acting style and Gordon-Levitt completely embodies Tom’s awkward, hip personae. You can’t help think that the various Joy Division t-shirts that Tom wears actually come from Gordon-Levitt’s own collection. The pair share a wonderful onscreen chemistry that is both sweet and sexually charged. (500) Days of Summer demonstrates that classic cinematic conventions aren’t tired and worn by default, they are just waiting to have a new lease on life breathed into them.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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