Review: (500) Days Of Summer

So the other weekend we watched (500) Days Of Summer, a quasi-romantic comedy in which a greeting-card writer named Tom falls in love with an administrative assistant named Summer. Unfortunately Summer doesn’t fall in love with him. (This is not a spoiler.)

(500) Days Of Summer is told in a nonlinear fashion, with the scenes jumping around in time from late in the relationship to early to in the middle. This is used to good effect several times, most notably during a “late” trip to IKEA when Tom makes a plumbing-related joke to Summer that falls painfully flat. The film then jumps to an “early” trip to IKEA and shows us why Tom made the joke and what sort of reaction he had hoped for. Note that I didn’t say the sort of reaction he had expected. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an amazing job of showing us what’s going on in Tom’s increasingly-desperate head; we can see that he is craving for any sign of approval from Summer during this shopping trip, even a simple smile, and that he has no real belief that he will get one.

I’ve seen other reviews that have complained that (500) Days Of Summer doesn’t show enough of Summer’s inner life, but I’m pretty sure that’s one of the points. This isn’t Summer’s story, it’s Tom’s story; he doesn’t really understand her or why she acts the way she does, and neither do we. Still, Zooey Deschanel manages not to lose the viewer’s sympathy, even as her character is destroying Tom’s life. Late in the film she does something stunningly selfish, culminating in a split-screen that’s more tense and devastating than any action film I’ve ever seen that relied on such editing tricks. (I’m looking at you, “Mission: Impossible” film series!)  In fact about the only thing in the movie that didn’t really work for me was Tom’s much younger sister; Chloë Moretz’s performance was fine, but her “wise munchkin” character didn’t impress me.

This is a comedy with some very funny and telling scenes, but it’s got some serious things to say, too; in particular, Tom’s speech about the evils of the greeting-card industry could well be the most riveting thing in the film, aside from the split-screen sequence. It’s not going to stop me from sending them but I’ll probably think about it every time I pull one off the shelf from now on.

(500) Days Of Summer didn’t put my wife to sleep at all — she stayed awake for the whole thing, aside from nodding off briefly towards the end. But that’s because it was 10pm. I rewound the movie (so to speak), woke her up, and restarted, and she stayed awake until it was over. The last film we watched at home that managed to keep her awake was, I think, The Illusionist — probably not coincidentally, she remarked that Joseph Gordon-Levitt reminded her of Edward Norton. I wonder if that means Zooey Deschanel reminded her of Paul Giamatti. Hmmm, I’m going to go with “no”.

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