Tom, a would-be architect, is shackled to a day-job writing greeting-card ditties while dreaming of The One. When his boss’ new secretary arrives, it’s cue Day 1 of 500 Days of Summer – the first day he meets Summer Finn. And so the film flashes forward and back through the 500 days of their topsy-turvy relationship.
The thing is that Summer’s a modern kind of girl - a no-commitments, mercurial spirit. Tom believes in romance, love-at-first sight and destiny. She’s witty, charming, clever and likes The Smiths. So does he. But how can it ever work? By Day 32 Tom’s smitten, living in a fantasy world, literally dancing his way through a musical daydream. By Day 185 reality bites and the on-again, off-again romance is in the balance.
Yet back at Day 1, it’s all to play for. And 500 Days of Summer’s playfully punchy approach sees it all through Tom’s eyes. A flow of time-flips, split-screens, and visual tricks depict Tom’s infatuation, the highs and lows of being in love. And, if you’re a man, of thinking you’re Han Solo too. But the Summer we see is the Summer he doesn’t – not always the perfect, pretty-pixie but a flesh and blood person with thoughts of her own.
So, in a strikingly funny scene, Tom imagines how his date with Summer will go, while the other half of the screen shows The Reality. And this is the heart of director Marc Webb’s film – the collision of lives and emotions and the things they do to you. Not always what you expect – or what you want.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (GI Joe) plays Tom perfectly, convincing us of the exultant confidence of being in love and the sad-dog sappiness and steely heartbreak when it’s unrequited. Zooey Deschanel (The Happening) is as doey-eyed and quirky as usual – and does well in a role where she doesn’t just play Summer but Tom’s view of Summer.
At times, 500 Days pushes its quirky credentials a touch too far. We know Summer’s a free spirit without the ‘penis’shouting scene in the park. And we know Tom needs a reality-check but the wise-little-sister giving him heart-to-heart talks might strike some as a bit icky and implausible.
But 500 Days is a breezy, brittle comedy that leaves behind the cosy-rosy glow of other romantic comedies. A touch too real if you like traditional romcoms of the wish-fulfilment, feel-good variety. And there’s the sting: 500 Days wrings humour and sadness out of sharply observed realities. But even the film’s unrealities help us to laugh at ourselves.
Funny, engaging and well-acted, 500 Days of Summer is a surprisingly touching film, packing a postmodern punch. Director Marc Webb uses the cinematic potential to great effect: sweeter than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, more edgy than Definitely Maybe, it’s a time-flip comedy about timeless things.