Fox // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // December 22nd, 2009
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn't.
Just because hipsters don't express their emotions earnestly doesn't mean they're not romantic. However, to date, almost all romances for the young and hip star the ineffably uncool Zach Braff (Garden State), are horrible (Gigantic), or both (The Last Kiss). (500) Days of Summer is the latest film trying to puncture the layers of irony that surround the heart of a hipster. Does it succeed? Well, they've got indie princess Zooey Deschanel...that's a good start.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin) is a young man who seems to have it made. He's attractive, a snappy dresser, has a great apartment, and is an up-and-comer in the greeting card business. The only problem is he's fallen hard for Summer (Deschanel, Yes Man). Initially, in those heady days when they're shopping together at Ikea and making love in the shower, this isn't a problem. But Tom loves Summer, and Summer's not sure how she feels about Tom. He's her best friend and she really doesn't want to lose that friendship, but she doesn't really see a future together as a couple.
It's rare that I see a movie with so many good and bad instincts. (500) Days of Summer has witty, insightful, and original things to say about young people and relationships. There are moments that made me laugh, nearly cry, and at one point almost stand up and applaud. But there were more than a few that were cringe-worthy. It's almost as if this film is the love child of The Graduate and some mindless Mandy Moore movie.
The good stuff (when it's good, it's really good) is largely derived from the film's foundational conceit -- a love story about a failed relationship. This is a brilliant idea. Why does the couple in a love story have to end up happily ever after, anyway? Many of our most cherished romantic memories come from failed relationships. It might take a few (or several) years to get the perspective we need to disregard the bad stuff and accentuate the good, but it does eventually happen. The drunken flirting in the karaoke bar and the morning after consummating their relationship are two funny and perceptive takes on the early stages of a relationship. These contrast brilliantly with (500) Days of Summer's depiction of the arguments and crushed expectations which plague a dying relationship. In particular, the split screen portrayal of Tom's reunion expectations and the reality of that meeting was one of the most exquisitely painful moments in cinema this year. It hurt because we've all been there, and watching it happen to someone else shows how silly we can be when we're in love.
The problem is that for every time the film nails what it's like to be young and in love -- or young and lovelorn -- it gets something else completely wrong. The scenes of Tom seeking advice from his prepubescent sister are particularly galling. The relationship-savvy child seems like a conceit more befitting a movie like 27 Dresses, not one with as much personality and style as (500) Days.
Then there are the hipster stereotypes which seem to be concessions to the movie's hip audience. There's Tom's quirky job as a full-time greeting card writer. Is that even a real occupation? Don't freelancers do those? There's also the scene in the elevator where Tom and Summer have a mini-bonding session over The Smiths. Like the "You gotta hear this song -- it'll change your life" scene in Garden State, the music dropping (which is sort of like name dropping) is lazy shorthand for labeling a character -- and the movie itself -- as cool and profound.
With the talent and intelligence on display in (500) Days of Summer, it's especially disappointing to see the film marred by miscues that seem so easily avoided. Gordon-Levitt might be the best young actor working today, and he makes Tom humorous, pathetic, and likable. Deschanel, always effortlessly cool and cute, is the perfect stand-in for those girlfriends we somehow made it with, but never felt worthy to date. And director Marc Webb, along with writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, have created a stylish movie with an ingenious plot structure. Ultimately, a wildly uneven movie is still better than a consistently decent one, but it's hard not to mourn the missed opportunities.
The (500) Days of Summer screener DVD came in a white envelope, and I can not be sure it will be the same as retail copies available to consumers. Both the picture and sound seemed compromised, so I'm going to assume they are different. That said, as far as location scouting goes, I was impressed with how Webb was able to make Los Angeles look so much like New York City or Chicago. The only extras are a commentary track with Webb, Neustadter, Weber, and Gordon-Levitt; and nine deleted scenes totaling about fourteen minutes. It was refreshing to hear the creative forces beyond the film discuss their motivation to make an original and profound romantic comedy, but it only makes their missteps all the more inexplicable. The deleted scenes are just pared down alternate or extended takes of scenes already in the film.
Disaffected youth need romantic comedies too, and (500) Days of Summer should come close to satisfying them. Clever and hip, it also suffers from some of the most cloying aspects of romances. It's certainly not a waste of time, but is hardly this generation's The Graduate.
Despite a myriad of petty crimes, I'm going to suspend sentence and declare (500) Days of Summer not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site