Review: “(500) Days of Summer”

July 14, 2009 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

Off-beat and quirky indie films seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days.  I remember a film professor from my undergraduate years telling me that after Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was released in the early 90’s, every budding filmmaker, from the high school level to independent producers, wanted to make a movie similar to it.  More recently it has been films like Garden State, Juno, and Little Miss Sunshine that have renewed the interest in the independent film scene.  Ever student filmmaker nowadays wants to make a movie that appeals to the current generation’s sense of humor and style, but many times these indie films (many of the shorts scattered all over the Internet) end up falling flat and sounding pretentious.

So what makes director Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer so appealing?  It’s because it feels like it doesn’t take itself too seriously from the beginning.  The movie is typical romantic comedy fare: boy meets girl, the date, they fall in love, they break up, boy tries to get girl back.  How the movie tells the story is a little different; the script plays around with time, and instead of showing the rise and fall of the relationship, we get the best of both intermittently.  Webb shows us (through use of titles numbering the 500 days they were together) their first meeting, first date, first fight, but not necessarily in that order.  This helps keep things fresh so that we don’t really know what to expect.

The movie also moves like a music video, which is what Marc Webb’s background is.  It’s well-paved, never stays too long in one shot (but avoids the constant MTV-style cutting), and is also very inventive in transitions and even in animation.  Also, the color palette of the film, which leans toward blue, helps bring out Zooey Deschanel’s freakishly large blue eyes.  They’re beautiful, but if they were to stare right at me, they might make me cower in fear.

A movie like this wouldn’t work without a strong cast.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, the average Joe who works at a greeting card company, and who eventually falls for the cute new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel).  Summer is fun, independent, and most definitely not looking for love.  But what happens when the guy falls in love with the girl who doesn’t love him back?  That’s when the sparks really fly.  Gordon-Levitt proves, once again, he is a very capable actor.  From his head-turning performance in Rian Johnson’s high school film noir Brick, to more comedic roles like this one, he really allows himself to fall into a role.  He’s totally loveable as the poor schmuck who becomes attracted to the one girl that may be just out of his league, and we’re with him the entire time as he struggles to figure out why this relationship is falling apart.

Zooey Deschanel is fine in the title role of Summer.  While I think it wasn’t a role that could only be played by her, I get the impression she understands her character and her motivations (unlike the role in last summer’s The Happening).  Summer would appear to be a hard character to fully understand, at least from a guy’s perspective.  She’s fully independent, knows what she wants, and ready to enter or leave a relationship as it suites her.  The conflict comes from Tom, who is almost the exact opposite.  He knows what he likes and not really what he wants.

All of that is played out with humor, interspersed with great use of music (and the best use of Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind”) from a variety of bands.  (500) Days of Summer is sure to please the indie crowd eager to step away from big budget studio blockbusters like this week’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  It’s fun, romantic, and even a little bittersweet.  In other words, this is what many student filmmakers may be copying in the years to come.

8.5/10

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