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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 02:12 pm

500 Days of Summer: A genuine look at love and loss

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom Hansen and Zoey Deschanel as Summer Finn in 500 Days of Summer.
If you were to tell a young filmgoer that Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer is their generation’s Annie Hall, they’d likely say, “Annie who?” Yet, there’s no mistaking the similarities between this charming new romance and Woody Allen’s classic film. Both follow the arc of a doomed love affair in inventive, charming and ultimately moving ways.

The film’s opening moments immediately clue in the viewer on the film’s ironic tone, as well as the fact that it will speak to anyone who’s ever had their heart broken. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hopeless romantic who blames his optimistic outlook on love on “a total misreading of the film The Graduate.” Having given up on his dream of becoming an architect, he’s in a dead end job writing greeting cards, coming up with the occasional witty idea when he’s not daydreaming of designing buildings. A far more attractive distraction pops up in the person of Summer (Zoey Deschanel), a new secretary at his workplace whose cynical view of love is the result of her parents’ divorce.

The most charming thing about the film, other than Deschanel, is Webb’s narrative approach. In covering the 500 days of this relationship, he shows us the progression of this love affair randomly. Day 290 jumps back to days three and four, then we are privy to day 154 which trips back to day 22 and so on. This innovative technique provides a dose of irony throughout, because we are privy to how their relationship will end, even when they aren’t. We can’t help but laugh and cringe at the early moments of delight, knowing that it will all end disastrously, at least for one of them.

Webb is quite aware that differing points of view are at the heart of any relationship and he does his best to present both Tom’s and Summer’s perspective. Neither one is at fault when a fight erupts or a misunderstanding occurs, they’re simply coming from different places, sometimes uniting in their desires and sometimes not. This is presented brilliantly late in the film when we see Tom arrive at a party thrown by Summer. Webb splits the screen, showing us how Tom has played the scene out in his head, imagining a romantic meaningful evening on one side and the harsh reality of that night on the other. We’ve all been down this street before and the pain of recognition is powerful and painful.

The camera simply loves Deschanel’s Summer and it’s easy to see why Tom would fall so hard and pine so deeply for her. The actress exudes charm with her unassuming, dazzling smile, her sparkling eyes, lilting laugh and natural beauty. Webb goes out of his way to capture all of these aspects and more, causing us to fall in love with her too, which helps us empathize with Tom.

Witty, charming and hopelessly romantic, the film presents as honest a look at love as possible. With the exception of a few scenes in which Tom seeks advice from his 12-year-old sister — which feel as though they’ve been lifted from a bad sit-com — there’s a genuine quality to the film that will have you smiling at the memory of your first love, as well as cringing at the thought of failed romances. More than anything, 500 Days of Summer is an effective primer on falling in love and how to survive it. In the end, Webb offers up what all hopeless romantics thrive on — hope.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.
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