“(500) Days of Summer” (2009). Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Chloe Moretz, Minka Kelly; Director: Marc Webb; Screenplay: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
They say all’s fair in love and war (and, for my part, I’d add in law of attraction practices as well). Last week, I looked at how the law of attraction applies in matters of war in my review of “The Hurt Locker” (“When Beliefs Become Addictions”), so this time I’ll examine how it relates to affairs of the heart, as seen through the lens of the new indie flick, “(500) Days of Summer.”
Although this film is technically considered a romantic comedy, it’s by no means a love story (at least not in the traditional sense), a point made plain at the picture’s outset. Rather, it’s a boy-meets-girl tale that explores how each party reacts, in his or her own way, to the challenges and opportunities of that most exhilarating – and oftentimes most exasperating – of consciously creative arenas, the realm of relationships.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a would-be architect who works as a greeting card writer while waiting for his big break. While slumming as a producer of purple prose, he meets and becomes smitten with Summer (Zooey Deschanel), the office’s new administrative assistant, a romantic prospect who Tom finds enigmatic and alluring but ultimately unavailable. So it’s something of a surprise to our hero when he suddenly finds himself becoming amorously involved with the woman of his dreams, even if on somewhat tentative and less-than-satisfying terms. Such is the essence of this quirky tale of reluctant romance, a sometimes-turbulent saga fraught with episodes of fun, frolic, frustration, fighting and foolishness with results that are both entertaining and enlightening.
What’s most intriguing about Tom and Summer’s story is seeing how the conditions of their involvement are uniquely characterized by their beliefs. Viewers get a chance to see clearly how the protagonists manifest the circumstances that color the nature of their relationship. Some, for instance, come about as a result of long-held convictions, such as Tom’s storybook contention that love blossoms just like the lyrics of ’80s pop ballads and Summer’s fatalistic notion that something beautiful can be destroyed as easily as it is created (an inherent disincentive to the formation of lasting attachments, to say the least). Other materializations arise from the characters’ contemporary beliefs and as a result of their reactions to interactions with one other. From all this, it becomes obvious that chance and happenstance aren’t at work here; the results stem from whatever the characters themselves put forth.
Given that this is a romantic comedy, viewers may be tempted to watch it from a heartfelt perspective, hoping that everything will turn out just peachy in the end. But as events transpire, it becomes apparent that may not be the case, despite the picture’s breezy nature and abundant laughs (and there are many of those in this movie for sure). No matter how we – or the characters – may try to evade what’s inevitably unfolding on the screen, in the end, all the “successes” and “failures” that materialize ultimately spring forth from the underlying beliefs that spawned them.
But even when things don’t work out as planned, does that mean these experiences are total wash-outs? Indeed not. As in many of life’s pursuits, but particularly in the area of love, there are always opportunities for learning valuable lessons from the experiences we create, especially in terms of rescripting the beliefs we hold in order to obtain more desirable results in the future. And that revelation is the real beauty of this film for hopeless – and hopeful – romantics alike.
“(500) Days of Summer” is not your typical romantic comedy. The story is told out of chronological sequence, and various filming styles are used to move the plot forward. In the hands of less-skilled filmmakers, this approach might have come across like a gimmicky hodgepodge of cinematic techniques, but this unusual fusion is deftly handled through the work of director Marc Webb, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, cinematographer Eric Steelberg, and film editor Alan Edward Bell. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have a wonderful chemistry together, too, both when things are working and not working in their characters’ relationship. Put it all together, and you have a refreshing new take on a tried-and-true formula, the best of both worlds.
Like Shakespeare, who early in his career wrote humorously (albeit bittersweetly) about the pains and perils of love’s labors’ lost, the creators of this film bring us comparable insights into this aspect of the human condition in a contemporary context. But they ultimately go farther by also showing us the rewards of love’s lessons learned. And, with all due respect to the Bard, I’ll take the latter option any day.