(500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer is a Hollywood romantic comedy with (unnecessary and annoying brackets) in the title just so we know it’s quirky, which it rather is, but it’s so in love with its own quirkiness it gets tiresome after a while. It’s just not as clever as it thinks it is although, having said that, I should point out it’s been a huge commercial and critical hit in America so maybe I’m just getting too old for dating movies generally. Or, as my five-year-old niece recently put it to me: ‘Deb, why are you all cracked around the eyes?’ Kids, couldn’t eat a whole one and all that, but still, what a bitch! Alternatively, and just to prove I can also do quirky: ‘what a (bitch!)’
So, (500), which describes itself as ‘an honest, true-to-life account’ of a relationship, rather as if all those Sandra Bullock and Owen Wilson movies have never had anything to tell us and may even be wildly implausible in some way. As if! Plus, I can’t remember the last time I went to a wedding which wasn’t crashed by two handsome hunks who eventually find true love via a series of comical mishaps. ‘Here come the hunks,’ everyone says at weddings these days. ‘Hold on to your hats and let the comic mishaps begin….’ But this is different, and is about a relationship that doesn’t make it, which isn’t a spoiler because, as the narrator says right at the beginning, ‘This isn’t a love story. It’s a story about love.’
Essentially, it is boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl doesn’t. The boy is Tom, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is dishy in a rather nice, understated James McAvoy kind of way, while the girl, Summer, is played by Zooey Deschanel, who is lusciously gorgeous but always dressed like a dirndl doll, for some reason. Anyway, Tom, whose romantic notions have been informed by ‘sad British pop music and a misreading of The Graduate’, trained as an architect but is frittering away his salad days writing sappy messages for a greetings card company. ‘Why make something disposable like a building when you can make something that lasts for ever like a greetings card,’ he says, when quizzed on this matter. There are some nice lines in this. And Summer? She comes into his life when she lands the job as his boss’s assistant. For him, it’s love. For her, it’s a lark. Either way, the film charts the unnecessarily bracketed (500) days of their affair, although not in chronological order. This is the film’s greatest conceit, snapping backwards and forwards through time, with each scene being preceded by the day’s number, so you may get day (410), when he first realises she’s going sour on him, juxtaposed with day (17), when they share their first kiss. This technique chops it all up rather neatly — the director, Marc Webb, was previously a music-video man — and if it had stopped there it might have been OK, but the quirky quirks keep coming and coming: split screens, a parody of the French new wave, streetscapes mutating from film to pencil drawings and even a post-coital song-and-dance spectacle with a cartoon blue bird of happiness landing on Tom’s finger. At times, you do think: enough with the quirks, already. Give me comic mishaps at a wedding!
The main problem, though, is that the characters just aren’t strong enough to carry a story and, as such, there may not even be a proper one. Tom is cute but rather wet and has friends who are morons and say ‘dude’ a lot, while Summer is so remote and spacey it’s hard to know what she is about, if she is about anything at all. Although I rarely write anything down during screenings because a) it’s too dark and b) I can’t be bothered and c) I might be dozing, I did, at some point, scrawl across my press notes: ‘After five minutes you know everything you need to know about these characters, so who cares?’ Sometimes I don’t think I’m as clever as I think I am, but then I look at a remark like that and know I (so) am. And, I think you’ll agree, I’ve picked up the quirky use of brackets quicker, and more (quirkily), than most.
This is a film which tries so hard to be fresh and different it loses sight of the bigger picture, is just kind of empty somehow, and rather beefs up the ‘rom’ and the heartache at the expense of the ‘com’. But, like I said, maybe it’s just that I’m too old. Kids …couldn’t eat a whole one and all that, but what if I ate half now and Tupperwared the rest for later? That would work, wouldn’t it?