This is the 500th review of a feature-length film to be posted on 100 Films. Moderately appropriate, no?
Marc Webb | 95 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG-13
Directed by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), with a supporting cast that includes Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass), Matthew Gray Gubler (All-Star Superman), and Clark Gregg (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Avengers)… (500) Days of Summer has nothing to do with superhero movies. Plenty of people involved in making it aren’t connected to superhero movies — mainly (what with her being the titular Summer) Zooey Deschanel. So why am I listing all of those connections? A slightly random bit of fun, that’s all.
That’s a phrase which might also summarise Webb’s directorial philosophy when it comes to this work. Much as the bracketing of 500 in the title has as much reason as Tarantino misspelling the whole title of his World War 2 movie, so Webb throws in directorial flourishes — asides, homages, fantasy sequences — in a broadly similar vein to Tarantino’s grab bag use of familiar tropes in the likes of Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. I was going to spotlight some of Webb’s exhibitions, but they quickly become hard to keep track of, never mind list. It’s not that the film lacks a coherent style — much of it is shot ‘normally’, for want of a better word, and works — but that there are a variety of asides and short sequences that spin off in different directions. They all sit surprisingly well within the story though — yes, some (perhaps all) are showing off a bit, but in a way that, by and large, works. And I’m a little bit glad I can’t quite list them all, because half the fun of (500) Days of Summer is watching what looks like a borderline-mainstream indie rom-com that suddenly throws these curveballs at you.
The plot follows greetings card writer Tom (Gordon-Levitt) as he falls in love with his boss’ new assistant, Summer (Deschanel), for the 500 days from when he first meets her to… well, that’d be the ending. It doesn’t do it linearly though — c’mon, this is an indie-ish ’00s film, did you really expect it to be chronological? This is just one of the aforementioned flourishes, though I suppose it’s one that’s more attributable to screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Unfortunately — but predictably — the re-jigged chronology rarely has a point. It makes some juxtapositions that would be less slap-round-the-face obvious if they weren’t forcibly placed side by side — and therefore better for it — but most of the time it’s harmless. At least the regular use of a day counter to let us know where we are, a) makes it less confusing than other chronologically challenged films that want you to spend most of your viewing time working out what takes place when (I’m looking at you Alejandro González Iñárritu), and b) lets Webb have some fun with the counter towards the end.
Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel seem fundamentally likeable (the latter especially, I must say — let’s put her in the same camp as Carey Mulligan), making the relationship work all the better for the viewer. Or you could be jealous of beautiful people having fun, I suppose, but the early painfully-real awkward bits help overcome at least some of that. Meanwhile, Moretz plays the “pre-teen wise beyond her years” that she’d go on to be in Kick-Ass and Let Me In. Not that those three roles are identical by any means, but you can see how one led to the other.
An opening voiceover warns the viewer that “this is not a love story”. Of course, it is, just one without the traditional ending. Don’t worry, no spoilers here, but I will say that romantics would do well to heed this warning anyway, otherwise they might find themselves disappointed. However, viewers who are prepared for a story that rings true, in a way those routine rom-coms starring the likes of Jennifer Aniston never do, may well be pleasantly surprised. It’s not wholly unique — one might readily draw comparisons with Before Sunrise or Garden State, though I don’t think it’s necessarily as quirky (not a criticism, just a point) — but equally it doesn’t feel derivative.
I confess, I wasn’t really expecting to like (500) Days of Summer — something about the hype, indie-ness and my mood that day made me think I’d find it a bit too irritating, probably with too-cool characters I didn’t care about, gimmicks I’d find pointless, and a sense of déjà vu at indie rom-com antics. I think some viewers may find these irritants do crop up, at least in places — like I say, there are shades of other indie-rom-coms — but thanks to some sweet scenes, directorial flourishes that work, proper laugh-out-loud moments, and the sense that the plot is at least grounded (if not wholly residing) in the way most real relationships pan out, Webb’s debut feature overcomes the vast majority of its potential drawbacks to make for an entertaining and meaningful film. You can see why he was picked for the supposedly more teen-life-focused Spidey reboot.