(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)


‘This is not your typical story of boy meets girl.’ So we’re told at the beginning of (500) Days of Summer, to the sound of Regina Spektor’s Us, which marks the start of the most hip and joyful soundtrack of the year. The start is actually the ending. We know from the outset that Summer and Tom will split up, and this fortunately prevents the film from trying to surprise us with where it’s going in this oh-so predictable genre.

That is not to say that (500) Days is entirely original, though, despite its claims. There are annoying and unnecessarily cliché moments, like Summer catching the bride’s bouquet of flowers at a wedding when we know her philosophy is to live light and avoid ‘serious stuff.’ When she explains she was called ‘anal girl’ at school because she was tidy, and Tom spits his drink out in the process, it’s just not funny. There’s an irritatingly omniscient younger sister giving relationship advice, and at the end, horrifically, Tom meets a new girl called Autumn. No doubt this is supposed to represent fate and his eventual ability to move on from Summer, but it ends up feeling too perfect and predictably Hollywood for it to be anything more than cheap.

But this is far too harsh. In total, these moments don’t add up to more than 10 minutes of the film, and (500) Days hits the mark on humour and its attempts at being fresh much more often than it fails. They meet at work, where Tom happens to be a failed-architect-turn-greeting-card-designer, and Summer’s the new secretary. We don’t learn much of  significance about her, other than that her favourite Beatle is inexplicably Ringo and her favourite song is ‘Octopus’ Garden.’ But Tom takes a liking to her eye-turning looks and mysterious persona. There’s a wonderful scene in which we see a collage of images narrated by Tom. We see all the things he says he loves about her: her knobbly knees, her heart-shaped birthmark, the way she laughs and her gorgeous smile. It gets even sweeter when walking to work, Tom’s on top of the world to the extent that everyone greets him, the fountains spray in sync with his movements and he ends up orchestrating a dance in the park to the tune of Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True. Apparently this happens in Bollywood movies all the time, but it’s unbelievably cute, and makes you smile, however much you may not want to.

This is all against the backdrop of the city of Los Angeles, which plays an unusually conservative role: so many movies nowadays feel obligated firstly to be set in New York, but then also to occasionally drop in a skyline tracking shot of any tourist spots. Not (500) Days. One barely knows they are in LA, and this contributes further to its freshness.

It’s hard to explain where its joy lies without making it sound quite typical and soft, but whereas the ‘anal’ scene really isn’t funny, the couple’s trip to IKEA in which they pretend to live in the artificial rooms really is (ultimately they lie in bed, then realise there’s a Chinese family in their en suite).

There are multiple moments as fun as this, and it is where (500) Days is at its best. I find it hard to believe that anyone won’t find the content joyful, especially when coupled with the scenery. By this, I mean not only the surroundings in which they stroll, but what they stroll in, from the quirky, ditzy dresses to the smart-casual suits. The pop-philosophy regarding love and destiny, and the life-approaches of each character, ruins the film ever so slightly, but all in all, it doesn’t matter. (500) Days is good fun; just enjoy it.

One Response to “(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)”

  1. Love the review. But, huge, huge gaping hole: You didn’t say a word about how the film is structured! Without it, it kind of IS a typical story of boy meets girl. Anyway. Enjoying the reviews. Keep ’em up.

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