Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

(500) Days of Summer feels a bit like a less dreary companion piece to He’s Just Not That Into You–except from the male perspectivein that it explores how women–though not being intentionally cruel–will nevertheless rip out your still-beating heart and show it to you, then go off and marry some other guy and expect that you can still be friends. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t bad either.

The Good:

  • The juxtaposition of scenes of the characters after the break-up and before the break-up is consistently amusing, and it isn’t purely a gimmick–it does help to tell the story.1
  • There are other cute narrative devices employed, such as a clever bit in which the protagonist’s expectations are matched up side-by-side with the reality. It requires a bit of focus on the part of the audience to watch the two scenes play out simultaneously, but it’s effective and identifiable. I do wish the filmmakers would have pushed the comedy a little harder on that, however. Some viewers might think this is too gimmicky, but I appreciated its dramatic intent.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t the typical Hollywood pretty-boy and Zooey Deschanel isn’t the typical Hollywood pretty-girl. That enhances their believability as regular folks who make stupid decisions, go on to delude themselves this way or that, and then pay the price of their foolishness…or don’t.
  • Some amusing bits are scattered throughout the film that are quite recognizable as the ill-conceived sorts of things men do in order to try to attract a woman. Pathetic, but true, there’s a great bit early on when JGL’s character, Tom, explains to his friends why he’s certain that Summer isn’t interested. He gave her plenty of chances, he says. Cut to a scene in which Tom spots Summer leaving work past his cubicle (though on the other side of the room) and starts playing on his computer a song by a band she likes, hoping that she’ll be lured over as if by the Pied Piper. Instead, she continues on, neck never even bending in his direction. These little touches are nicely observed and remind me of why I’m so lucky to be married and beyond all of that desperate behavior. I still recall being in college and, for example, refilling my drink in the cafeteria always at the same time as this or that girl on whom I had a crush that week. Cute girls never notice your “sly” efforts.
  • By and large, the musical cues worked well in establishing mood and an overall quirky flavor for the film.

The Bad:

  • It was a bit over-the-top for me. If any man truly fell all to pieces like this (“utterly abject” is a way to describe it) over a break-up with a girl he had known for less than a year, it would be time to call in the men in the white coats. I’m well aware that this was a comedy, but every scene of Tom throwing some outward or inner tantrum subtracted from the emotional weight of the film. You expect this sort of overreaction in a Farrelly Brothers comedy, but not as much in a quirky, independent-type film. It makes the film feel as if it were written by and for young 20-somethings–and perhaps it was–but I wish I’d seen more subtlety.
  • On the subject of that, neither of the main characters was particularly likable to me. I disliked Summer almost from the start, in fact, when she tells Tom that she doesn’t believe in love or relationships. What sort of woman doesn’t believe in love or relationships? Any woman who tells you that is full of baloney. So it annoyed me–knowing Tom was inclined to romantic over-inflation–she nevertheless drew him into her web thinking that she could dictate terms for both of them about what it should mean. And if I’m being honest, Zooey Deschanel isn’t so intrinsically lovable that I was willing to forgive her character. One scene in particular–in which, after months of hand holding and dating and sleeping together and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ear, she surprises Tom by telling him that they’re only friends–had me wanting to throttle her. To be certain, she pulled it off so well that it probably hit a little too close to home for me–she delivers it with a conversation-ending coldness, the implied meaning of which is obvious: no matter how desperately you plead for consideration based upon what you once shared, her mind is made up absolutely that showing even an ounce of warmth or reciprocation would seem to be sending the wrong message. As if suddenly turning completely off is an act of kindness. It’s actually not–it’s really just damn insulting. Tom’s explosive reaction is actually appropriate here, since dealing with a woman who has locked down like this is akin to attempting to move an unmovable object. In any event, I recommend watching the underrated Yes Man after this film to improve your outlook on Zooey Deschanel.
  • Some of the narrative idiosyncrasies didn’t work as well as others. For example, the actual narration that is weaved in and out of the film somewhat erratically. Each time it happens, it essentially stops the film and detaches you from whatever spark of realism managed to engage you. It’s a gag that probably worked better on paper.

Worth watching, but it won’t change your life or anything. There’s enough good material here, however, that every guy should be able to see himself reflected to some extent in the protagonist (not so much the ancillary characters, since they’re all just that: ancillary and not very interesting). In retrospect, (500) Days of Summer feels a little bit like a fluff piece, but at least it has some personality and avoids a lot of the standard romantic comedy cliches. Ultimately, I think the message is probably a valuable one, even if somewhat simplistically realized here: life goes on.

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1 – After writing out this post, I read Roger Ebert’s review, and he explains well why this storytelling technique works.

We never remember in chronological order, especially when we’re going back over a failed romance. We start near the end, and then hop around between the times that were good and the times that left pain. People always say “start at the beginning,” but we didn’t know at the time it was the beginning. “500 Days of Summer” is a movie that works that way.