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[500] Days of Summer (2009) Dir. Marc Webb 3 September 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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Romantic comedies can be the bane of a young man’s cinema going existence. For every Star Trek the Mrs politely watches by your side there’s a debt that can only be re-paid with soul-crushing fare such as The Proposal or The Ugly Truth. It’s been a heck of a long time since When Harry Met Sally and even longer since the 50s “rom-com” hey day but the current yoof generation has finally got its own love story that doesn’t stick to the formula; doesn’t simplify relationships into good times, bad times and last minute dashes to the airport; and leaves you with a tangible sense of love ripped open and dissected onscreen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (last seen together in the underrated Manic) are Tom and Summer, the couple at the heart of [500] Days of Summer, but completely unlike any other onscreen couple. Summer doesn’t believe love exists and, despite her looks and good nature, doesn’t even want a boyfriend. Rather predictably perhaps Tom falls in love with her, but what makes [500] Days of Summer different is it’s smart fractured timeline (which contrasts moments of soaring emotion and heartache to great effect) and it’s realistic portrayal of a couple that was never meant to be.

The film’s unique structure is never confusing due to a clear and simple framing device telling viewers exactly which of the 500 days we are on at the beginning of each new scene. Starting with the break-up immediately lets viewers know that they’re in for something different and [500] Days of Summer is like nothing you have ever experienced before. There’s a genuine sense that everything these characters are going through feels true to life, from awkward first encounters to transcendental highs, soured by looking back at them when the relationship is little more than a bitter memory. The film is also devilishly funny with Gordon-Levitt proving a fine comedic presence, more often than not the laughs stemming from his embarrassing attempts to impress the girl in ways we’ve all tried in the past.

The film also brilliantly plays with Tom’s perception of his relationship with Summer in contrast with the bleak reality. Most overtly in one split-screen party scene we watch Tom’s expectations of the night down one side and the devastating reality on the other as Tom’s life comes crashing down around him. There are also some wonderfully staged fantasy sequences that perfectly capture the unique top-of-the-world feeling only love can achieve.

Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel prove to be a perfect fit for the odd-ball couple with the kind of spark between them most rom-coms only dream of, and they’re well supported by a suitably quirky supporting cast, in particular the brash, if somewhat clichéd best friend McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend).

My problems with [500] Days of Summer are few but important. Firstly a Pushing Daisies-esque narrator is introduced at the start of the film and largely abandoned until the final scene, annoyingly inconsistent which is strange considering the rest of the film is so perfectly balanced. Secondly in making this Tom’s story writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber fall into the “female enigma” trap that too many other romantic comedies have fallen into over the years, never satisfactorily explaining Summer’s motivations or feelings. And finally some of the film’s more whimsical elements fall flat – not least of which is the world wise younger sister of Tom who manages to be a step too far for believability, even in a film with spontaneous choreographed dance numbers.

But these minor criticisms should in no way deter you from seeing easily the best romantic comedy of this generation and probably the first since When Harry Met Sally that the blokes will enjoy just as much as the ladies. At once devastating and achingly beautiful [500] Days of Summer proves there’s still life in a tired genre.

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