RETRO-Review – (500) Days of Summer (2009)

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ANNNNNNDDDDD just in time considerably late for Valentine’s Day, I, SportsGuy515, am making my non-podcast return to the site with a themed RETRO-Review! To go with the theme of Valentine’s Day and romance, so to speak, I will be discussing in-depth my favorite romantic-comedy of all-time, (500) Days of Summer. Directed by Marc Webb, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.


Author’s note: The bulk of this review will contain *SPOILERS*. If you do not want to be spoiled, only read the introductory and concluding paragraphs, or come back to it altogether after you’ve seen the film. You have been forewarned.







(500) Days of Summer RETRO-REVIEW



This IS a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, this is NOT a love story.

-Narrator

Let’s face it – we’ve all been there. At some point in our lives, we’ve been obsessed with a girl/guy. We’ve told ourselves countless times that this person is “the one” in order to justify our obsessiveness (and borderline stalking). For some, the object of obsession shares mutual feelings, and thus a relationship begins. For the lucky ones, this person truly ends up being “the one” they’ve been searching for; for the rest, they have to deal with the consequence of taking on any relationship – the risk of heartbreak. People deal with heartbreak in different ways, and the time it takes to get over a former love really depends on the individual. But, in time, everyone does, and life goes on. Needless to say, the portrayal of romantic relationships in Hollywood has become somewhat clichéd over the years, and seems to lazily follow the same plot structure:


boy meets girl – boys falls in love with girl – girl not sure she likes boy – girl gives in and they start a relationship – an antagonistic person/event causes tension in the relationship – couple breaks up – boy and girl realize that they love each other – they reconcile – they walk into the sunset – the end


After a while, this can get pretty boring and stale. This is what makes (500) Days of Summer such a groundbreaking film – it acknowledges the standard tropes of the genre and turn them on their heads. As a result, we get a story that’s all too familiar, with a not-so-familiar ending.


For the purpose of coherence, I’ve decided to break this review up into sections, comprising all of the aspects that I enjoyed about the film, instead of lumping it all together in a few paragraphs, as I feel these aspects of the film deserve to be talked about individually.


The Acting: Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries this film on his shoulders. We are right beside him as he faces (in no particular order) the breathtaking highs and painstaking lows of love, as told primarily from his point of view. As a result, his character development is well-fleshed out and consistent. JGL plays Tom Hanson, of Margate, New Jersey, who according to the opening narration,


“…[believed] he could never truly be happy, until he found ‘the one’. This belief stemmed from years of listening to sad British pop songs, and a complete misreading of the movie The Graduate.”


In that one sentence, you already get a sense for the type of person this character is, and throughout the film, JGL is able to take that concept and make the audience sympathize with his every word, and his every action (no matter how wrong or cringe-worthy it may be).


Zooey Deschanel gives, in my opinion, her best film performance as the titular Summer, who in regards to Tom’s hopeless romantic characterization, is the complete opposite – someone who does not believe in the concept of love, fate, or destiny. During the opening narration, it is made known that Summer’s parents divorced when she was younger, which served as a primary catalyst for her current beliefs (it’s not reveale,d until later, that Tom’s parents are also divorced). This is pretty much the extent of the background we get on Summer, since the story is told from Tom’s point of view. However, Deschanel’s quirky, eccentric, hipster-like portrayal of Summer truly sucks the audience into the story, and shows us why Tom falls head-over-heels in love with her; then again, her natural beauty would do the job for most (especially those beautiful blue eyes she has…oh Zooey…)





Their on-screen chemistry is off the charts. Every smile, every laugh, every frown, they completely engulf you in a sea of emotions like a rollercoaster ride. They make you want to see them end up together at the end, and when they don’t, you’re left feeling like something inside of you is missing, like it wasn’t supposed to end up that way. But that’s love, isn’t it? Honorable mentions go to Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Tom’s wise-beyond-her-years younger sister, Geoffrey Arend as McKenzie, and Michael Gray Gubler (whom you may know from TV’s Criminal Minds) as Paul, Tom’s best friends. But as great as the supporting roles were, JGL and Deschanel dominate the screen from beginning to end – as the two leads should.


The Music: This is, without a doubt, one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. And the funny thing is, I really didn’t discover this until I watched the film again (for the first time in a while) last week. The music had such an effect on me and my new-found idol worship of this movie that I decided to buy the soundtrack – it’s THAT good, folks. Listening to it from beginning to end takes you on the musical journey of the film, from the innocence of new love and the peak of happiness, to the heartbreaking depths of despair, and to the realization that life will go on.


Possibly my favorite song from the film (“You Make My Dreams (Come True)” by Hall & Oates) plays into my absolute favorite scene of the film. Allow me to set it up for you, dear reader: Tom has just spent the night with Summer for the first time, and the next morning he arrogantly walks the streets of Los Angeles on his way to work to the tune of Hall & Oates, before spontaneously breaking into a dance number with a number of bystanders nearby, complete with an animated bluebird reminiscent of Song of the South. Now, obviously this scene isn’t “actually happening” – it’s all in Tom’s head, but the entire scene is representative of the peak of happiness. Plus, if you don’t admit to feeling EXACTLY LIKE THIS the first time you scored with a girl, then you’re LYING…you LIAR.


Enjoy this awesome scene in the video below (p.s. the Han Solo reflection automatically earns this infinite cool points):





The category of “sad British pop songs” as talked about in the beginning of the film is filled by two songs from legendary ’80s indie group The Smiths. My favorite of the two, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” plays at a pivotal moment in the film – the first words that Tom and Summer ever say to each other occur in an elevator, when Summer notices Tom listening to The Smiths, and grabs his attention by saying:



I love The Smiths.




Before I turn this film review into a music review, I just want to share one more incredible song: we’ve already seen/heard what “happiness” looks/sounds like – what about hitting rock bottom? Regina Spektor’s “Hero” is the perfect song to illustrate the sadness of one particular scene in the film. Here’s the setup: after bumping into Summer on the way to a mutual friend’s wedding, Tom sees this as an opportunity to win her back and rekindle their romance. He thinks his plan is working when Summer invites him to party she is throwing on the rooftop garden of her apartment building. This scene becomes one of the most important in the film, as director Marc Webb goes for the split-screen view – on one side, we have what’s labeled “Expectations” (what Tom thinks will happen at the party), and on the other side, we have “Reality” (what is ACTUALLY happening). During the commentary track for the film, Webb talks about the intention of the scene being that we all have expectations for how every moment of our lives will go, but our expectations lie to us, and many people don’t realize it until reality smacks them square in the face. Also during said track, Webb notes that this song was the PERFECT song for this scene, right down to the lyrics, “He never ever saw it coming at all”. What didn’t he see coming? I’ll reveal that in a moment…for now, enjoy the song on the video link below.






Overall, this is one of those rare cases where a film’s soundtrack actually ENHANCES its enjoyment. If you enjoy this film as much as I do, definitely give this album a listen – you will NOT regret it.


Cinematography/Color Palette: Cinematographer Eric Steelberg captures a side of Los Angeles that not many people get to see. With Tom’s dream career being that of an architect, it gives the film permission to take beautiful shots of the skyscrapers that surround downtown L.A. – during one particular scene, Tom takes Summer around the downtown area with the intent of showing off his architectural knowledge. It’s one thing to talk about skyscrapers and architecture, but to actually see what all the fuss is about is something else, and Steelberg does a great job of showing us why Tom loves architecture so much -not with words, but simply with images.


The film also takes on a very specific color scheme – the ONLY time (with the exception of one scene) you will see any variation of the color BLUE in the film is when Summer is onscreen. Director Marc Webb notes that he took inspiration from actress Zooey Deschanel’s blue eyes (that I can’t seem to stop talking about…) to designate the color to Summer. So whether it be on a hair accessory, on her clothing, or her beautiful eyes (there I go again…), you will not see BLUE anywhere in the film unless it’s on Summer. The only exception? You just watched it – the Hall & Oates dance sequence; if you noticed, all of the background dancers were wearing BLUE. This also explains the presence of a BLUEBIRD in the scene. Webb notes that this was intentional – to illustrate the reason for Tom’s happiness (i.e. the reason he’s doing a dance number in the street): Summer, as designated by what? The color BLUE.


The Teaser Trailer: Why am I wasting precious space on this review to talk about a TRAILER? Well, I’ll tell you: the teaser trailer is OLD-SCHOOL to the bone. Remember how back in the day, trailers used to display the name of the film every minute or so, while the voiceovers repeated the name of the film even more? Well, this is what you get with this film’s teaser trailer. In the right context, it really is a trip down memory lane to Hollywood’s past. And the song “Sweet Disposition” by Temper Trap (which you can listen to HERE) is nothing short of kickass. Watch the teaser trailer below:





The Final Bench Scene & its Ambiguity: So what happened at Summer’s party? Well, Tom noticed her showing off – you guessed it – an engagement ring to one of the guests. This makes Tom practically break down as he dashes from the party in complete and utter heartbreak. About 3 months later, Tom encounters Summer (who is already married) at the same bench that they frequented while they were together. There, she tells him how he was right all along about true love, fate, and destiny as she (heartbreakingly) finishes with,



It was just me that you were wrong about.



Who’da thunk it? A romantic-comedy where the protagonist/hero DOES NOT end up with the girl? It’s madness. MADNESS, I’ tell you!


In all seriousness, though, this was such a great scene that tied the entire premise of the film together. A lot of the popular opinion on this scene come to the conclusion that Summer is, for lack of a better term, a BITCH, with the way she seems to take pleasure in turning the dagger in Tom’s heart. But it has nothing to do with her getting off on Tom’s misery. This is just how Summer is, and always has been: brutally honest. This is what makes the writing in this film so brilliant – in the end, NOBODY is the bad guy. Tom and Summer never cheated on each other, and Summer was always straight-forward with Tom in what she wanted. In the end, it’s simply a matter of Summer never truly loving Tom (as she reveals to him in this scene) and driving home the point that they really never were “meant to be”.


But I think the most brilliant aspect of this scene comes in the form of a question that not too many people ask when watching this unfold: is Summer really there? Or is this a matter of Tom IMAGINING the entire conversation as a sort of therapeutic reflection? If you think turning to the commentary track for answers is a good idea, think again – director Marc Webb actually argues with the writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and his lead actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, over whether or not this scene is really taking place. Webb argues that it is – the writers and JGL argue that it isn’t, in the same manner that Tom “didn’t really have a dance chorus behind him”, according to JGL (referencing the Hall & Oates scene). A case can be made for both interpretations; one is, without question, sadder than the other. I mean, if we are to believe that this conversation isn’t actually happening, then that would make Summer’s party as the final time that they would ever see and speak to each other, which, not for nothing, is depressing as fuck. At least with the “she’s really there” interpretation, they get one last chance to talk about what went wrong with their relationship, while illustrating how both individuals have learned and grown from this experience. I mean, it really is up to the viewer which interpretation they choose to believe, but the fact that both are plausible just goes to show how brilliant writing that create a unique film experience.


And before I move on to my conclusion, I will say this: as corny as the ending is (Tom meets a new love interest, who’s conveniently named Autumn, played by Minka Kelly), it works. It gives no hints that they end up happily ever after; it’s just as the film’s final segue card indicates, with the number 500 resetting to number 1, the beginning of a new story. Will it all work out for Tom this time? Or did he honestly learn nothing from his experience with Summer? We don’t know – again, it’s up to you, the viewer. You decide Tom’s fate.


Conclusion: I never suspected that buying (500) Days of Summer from Amazon (along with Say Anything…, like I mentioned on the last episode of FORCED PERSPECTIVE) and casually watching it on a Tuesday afternoon, that I would grow to have such a deep affinity for this film. And mind you, this is a film that I’ve watch about 5 times prior to this. I already thought it was a great movie, but now it seems like I’ve finally understood this film the way it was meant to be understood, and as such, I now put it in my TOP 20 Favorite Films List, as well as now officially becoming my favorite romantic-comedy of all-time. Everything about this movie WORKS – the acting, the music, the story, the music, the cinematography, EVERYTHING! In my opinion, this is the most honest and realistic film about love that I’ve seen since Annie Hall (which this film takes some inspiration from). Tom’s soliloquy near the end of the film chastises Hollywood and pop music for portraying love as something that always has a happy ending, whereas, as we all know, that is more often wrong than it is right. That’s not me trying to be pessimistic about love, it’s just reality. But rest assured, most people do indeed find their true love at some point in their lives. What you should remember, though, is that it’s not always “the one” you think; and that’s exactly what the overall message of this film is, as Summer puts it:


Tom: So why didn’t [your past relationships] work out?
Summer: What always happens. Life.


Couldn’t have said it better.


Pros
-Phenomenal acting by the two leads, with a great supporting cast
-One of the best soundtracks for any film, ever
-Beautiful cinematography and use of color
-Not your everyday romantic-comedy; brings something unique to the genre
-Brilliant writing that invites audience participation and interpretation
-Possibly the most realistic romance film you will ever see


Cons
-Negligent anachronisms (on certain dates) ruin a would-be PERFECT film







FINAL SCORE: **** 1/2 (4.5/5)






Still here? Good, that means I did something right for a change, haha. Anyway, if you have any questions, comments, or feedback in general about this review or anything FP-related, send an email to sportsguy515@aol.com.


Did you miss our FORCED PERSPECTIVE Oscar Preview? No problem, you can listen to it HERE.


Hopefully, there will be a new FORCED PERSPECTIVE next week, focusing on recent 2013 releases such as Side Effects, Identity Thief, and A Good Day to Die Hard.




Hope you enjoyed this RETRO-Review – until next time, I’m out!






P.S. Here’s one more clip from the film – something I’m sure Big D will enjoy. How fast can you say, “FRIEND-ZONED!”


SportsGuy515

SportsGuy515

Cinephile extraordinaire, a budding filmmaker, and host of Forced Perspective. A resident of NY/NJ, he spends most of his time looking for new movies to watch and learning the craft of filmmaking. You’ve probably also seen him hanging around Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium at some point. If you see him approach your movie theater, be sure to let him in – he’s the guy in the Yankees cap!
SportsGuy515

About SportsGuy515

Cinephile extraordinaire, a budding filmmaker, and host of Forced Perspective. A resident of NY/NJ, he spends most of his time looking for new movies to watch and learning the craft of filmmaking. You’ve probably also seen him hanging around Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium at some point. If you see him approach your movie theater, be sure to let him in – he’s the guy in the Yankees cap!
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