Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Smart, young romantic comedy __ 8/10
Reviewed by Brian Wright

(500) Days of SummerPartygoer: So Tom, what is it that you do?
Tom: I uh, I write greeting cards.
Summer: Tom could be a really great architect if he wanted to be.
Partygoer: That’s unusual, I mean, what made you go from one to the other?
Tom: I guess I just figured, why make something disposable like a building when you can make something that lasts forever, like a greeting card.

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Directed by Marc Webb

Joseph Gordon-Levitt … Tom Hansen
Zooey Deschanel … Summer Finn
Geoffrey Arend … McKenzie
Chloe Moretz … Rachel Hansen
Matthew Gray Gubler … Paul
Clark Gregg … Vance
Patricia Belcher … Millie
Rachel Boston … Alison
Minka Kelly … Girl at interview


Great Writing

And because of that, the acting is pretty good, too. This is an unconventional love story, a romantic comedy with a different ending… which happens to be exactly brilliant. Much humor, most of it from dialog like the above. Which isn’t a real knee slapper, is it? I’m reminded of a cartoon I saw posted in the Birmingham Unitarian Church on the day of my (first… so far) marriage:

Executioner to Jester:
“You weren’t like the others, you really made us think.”

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In any case, kind of offbeat. But not so much that as the woman lead, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), has a real problem with any kind of love connection… and the man lead, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a true believer in the game of love. In fact, he’s a greeting card writer for a company near downtown Los Angeles—and quite a good one (writer), too. The other writers clearly depend on him for inspiration and a few good words when the going gets tough.

The movie is inimitable. I’m trying to think of some parallels, in fact, there are some sequences that kind of reminded me of Juno, but not as if the screen posted cartoons. The similarity with Juno lies in some of the dialog of the young characters—friends and family, especially friends—and it’s hugely laugh-out-loud from the subtleties. Not enough of the wittier quotes are included, unfortunately, in the IMDb quotations for the movie. But here’s one: Tom is sitting around with his buds and exclaims:

Tom: “This is what should be true in a world where good things happen to me.”
Friend: “We know it isn’t that kind of world, dude.”

Just dialog like that, running through the movie. And both Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are up to it, so are the minor characters. In particular, the girl who plays his 10-year-old sister, Rachel Hansen (Chloe Moretz), does a wonderful job as his last-resort love-and-life counselor. The writers do a fine job of creating this important character.

One of the key characters in the movie, believe it or not, is the architecture of Los Angeles. Now when’s the last time that happened? What most people don’t know about LA architecture is to be completely expected: LA is the home of automobiles gone wild, nothing permanent, nothing artistic or historically important. Au contraire. The esthetic idealism of the young man is refreshing, and we wonder why he gave it up to write greeting cards. As I mentioned, he’s good. He’s a star writer, and the company depends on him to a large extent with its line of “New Hampshire Greetings.”

So that’s a bonus of (500) days: you see an LA that you’ve never seen, a downtown free of the Bonaventure Hotel and all the other high rises that seem totally out of place. Hansen’s and Finn’s locale, within sight of the new downtown, is the authentic “old” downtown. With parks and walking areas, fewer cars—the people walk or take cabs and busses—the human-scale downtown is hugely livable. It gives the two principals a lovely space for gathering and love-dancing. Are they going to be young lovers, potential mates, looking for furniture together at the trendy spots, talking about building a man-and-woman life? Like so many other bright, young, caring Yuppie offspring in real time?

Young Love with a Twist

Well, we’ll see.

This movie makes me feel good about the youth of America… and at the same time sorrowful that so much wealth has been taken from future generations through the “Cartel’s” central banking system. What’s that adage, “Thanks to the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers and Social Security and Hypergovernment, the ratio of workers to Social Security recipients is approaching 1:20. So young Tom and young Summer will be looking forward to paying my green fees before they can have that house in the country.”

Rant Alert: A generally favorable critic of my movie reviews came down on my previous one of Amreeka, where I felt it important to stress the value of 9/11 truth and oppose Zionism rather forcefully. So I do not want to stray into warning of political evils so much any more. The nice thing is I believe we are close to the end of the Leviathan State and to the beginning of the Restoration of the Republic. Justice and truth are in the wind. So all the real Toms and Summers out there will soon be unstuck from obligations they never freely chose. Check out my Sacred Nonaggression Principle, the early 21st century’s Common Sense. (Thomas Paine, not Glenn Beck.)

Tom is the true believer. Summer is not. What is going to happen? Yes, the story has been told a million times before, and will be told a million times more. The screenwriters even give us a still photo collage for each of them, covering their childhood years. Cute.

For those of us well past the days of the pairing-up phase of life, it’s easy to watch with a sense of amusement and detachment. One thing different from my days is the subtlety of dialog. Summer is an ingenue, moving from “Shinnecock, Michigan” to Southern California to avoid feeling trapped and to leave behind the snow. I’ve known a lot of kids like that, back when I was one of ’em. But I have to say Zooey would not be on my list of hot prospects if I were an aspiring “married man.” Yes, she’s well spoken and can give as good as she gets in the scintillating repartee department: but she lacks a sense of purpose. What does she want? How deeply f***ed up will she be when the dust clears?

For Tom, though, that’s much of the appeal. He has that idealistic feature that fills in the blanks of her character. He has some, too. But frankly he has about twice the level of maturity she has, and the talent. Problem is, his lack of confidence. When they fall in “like,” his confidence problem is resolved. The men in his world regard Summer as a beauty. {Okay, Zooey, who has played mainly girl-sidekick roles until recently—she was Sarah Jessica Parker’s roommate in the Matthew McConaughey movie, Failure to Launch—is nice looking. But in Hollywood, I don’t think she’d stand out much. For “Shinnecock, Michigan,” different story. }

So what will it be? The (500) days gimmick is cool. The story moves about in time, mainly from Tom’s perspective—the (500) days of Summer are his days. And every time the scene changes into the future the days move from, say, (24), to, say, (50), and back and forth. Does he obsess about Summer? Well, for sure. And that obsession becomes a part of the resolution. The audience is being set up very carefully for an important, and elegantly conveyed, moral.

Would a confident young man with Tom’s abilities go for a Summer? Who knows. When you’re in your 20s and brimming over with raging hormones, sometimes reason doesn’t prevail—well, seldom reason prevails. But hopefully it keeps you out of trouble. Anyway, worthwhile romantic comedy, especially important to see by those of that age. The dialog is extra special witty, the young people are highly intelligent, and it all clicks.

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