Tom and Summer sit on a park bench, holding hands. It’s day 488 and an engagement ring glitters on Summer’s finger. This is not a love story, booms the baritone voice of our narrator. He’s right, it isn’t, yet even so forewarned it takes a full 500 days before you’ll believe it. 500 Days of Summer isn’t a love story, but it is about love; a deep and thoughtful film about romance, commitment, and where the pursuit of it takes Tom over the course of a relationship. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s romantic, and it’s utterly heartbreaking. 500 Days of Summer is without question one of the best films to grace Sundance, and maybe one of the very best movies anybody will see all year.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a cubicle dweller and writer of greeting cards. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the new girl at the office and Tom is instantly smitten. It’s day one and 500 Days of Summer doesn’t linger there for long. With a specific 500 day time period established at the outset on day 488, the film is freed to jump back and forth between spots on the calendar. It does so not as a gimmick or because someone in the editing room got bored, but rather to let us in on the way love grows, fades, and grows. One minute we’re watching Tom and Summer on day 50 goofing around at IKEA, the next we’re with them in a furniture store on day 300, when Tom tries to pull the same faucet gag which got a giggle out of Summer back on day 50, only this time with very different results.
Throughout it all, we’re never sure how it’s going to end. Tom and Summer grow closer and though the movie skips between days to show us glimpses into their future, it does so without spoilers. 500 Days of Summer keeps its audience guessing and hoping, and perhaps most importantly feeling right along with Tom as he clings to his notion of true love.
Levitt is utterly brilliant as Tom, a hopeless romantic who believes he has at long last found the perfect girl. We’re with him as he struggles to get up the nerve to ask her out, makes a fool of himself at karaoke, and gets punched in the nose defending her honor. This is not George Clooney. Tom is awkward and frustrated, often unable to express his emotions. He’s also loyal and brash and all the things women are so often drawn to in the midst of young love. Zooey is a natural as the object of his affection. Tom sees in her only the perfect girl, but Deschanel does an amazing job of projecting something hidden underneath what he sees. Her performance is subtle, stunning, and only pays off fully at the movie’s end.
500 Days of Summer is unlikely to reinvent the romance genre, in fact it’s not even interested in being that kind of film. If it’s romantic (and it is), it achieves that as only a byproduct of something else, something deeper, something bigger, something even more beautiful than the standard boy meets girl tale. It’s creative, surprising, insightful, and a must see for any lover of great film.
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