(500) Days of Summer December 2, 2016
As imperfect humans do we tend to remember things in an order organized from worst to best — never-ending is the dwelling upon situations either doused in some sort of emotional trauma or some sort of discontent. Sometimes are good memories premier, but we’re more inclined to lying awake at night beating ourselves up over moments we wish we could take back.
As the entirety of subversive romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer is told in flashback, kicking off at the tail end of a failed romance, it would perhaps prefer to focus on the finer feelings of its central doomed relationship to its slow burns of heartbreak. But because it’s eerily close in its resembling to one’s memory bank — it tells of the five-hundred day long relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the eponymous Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in a non-linear style that jumps back and forth between seemingly unrelated days (from Day 2 to Day 250, for example) — there’s never a moment not shaded by longing bittersweetness, by empathetic relatability.
Because we’ve all had relationships like the one spotlighted in (500) Days of Summer. An underdog in a genre that takes a liking to perfect matches and champions the unrealistic ideology that is the soulmate, in place is the kind of unbalanced courtship wherein one party is deeply in love while the other is consistently unsure of their true emotions and eventually becomes a heartbreaker.
The looming relational train wreck, immediately (and bitterly) is autobiographically revealed at the film’s opening, but even without it would we be easily equipped to tell that Tom and Summer’s love is distinctly one-sided — Tom would kill for the titular, quirky brunette beauty without hesitation, whereas Summer, despite obviously caring a great deal for the beau she does, in her defense, declare that she doesn’t much want to begin with, isn’t so sure she can commit to making such declarations surrounding the opposite party anyway.
And yet the tragicomic trappings of (500) Days of Summer arguably make it more memorable a romantic comedy. How energizing it is to have a genre gem in which the leading couple isn’t actually made for each other, in which happy endings aren’t so certain in their happily ever after positioning, in which the male hero’s more than an idealistic pile of charm and in which the female of interest has more to worry about than her romantic life.
The screenplay, by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is appealingly offbeat, packed with charismatic artistic detours that include a musical sequence and a talking head style, black-and-white documentary imitating confessional. The direction, by Marc Webb, enchants without running into schmaltz. Levitt is humanely congenial, Deschanel lovable if damaged.
But by (500) Days of Summer’s end are we, at odds with its mostly impeccable technical and artistic risks, left feeling as though it could be something more than it is. Pestering me is the notion that we could have been presented with a primary cinematic romance that didn’t so often take on the tone of lovestruck boy running after girl who doesn’t like him all that much (Summer’s various states of disregarding paired with her brushes with ingenuity and authenticity make her a sometimes difficult character to understand — though I suppose that could be precisely the point). Badgering me is the idea that the characterizing of the beginning and ending of Tom and Summer’s relationship is so strong that the juice coming in the middle almost seems nonexistent (which is, therefore, a detrimental setback). Still, the movie’s beautifully nonconforming and oftentimes categorically superior — it’s genre fodder a cut above its formula-driven peers. B