(500) Days of Summer — review

Screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Neustadter and Weber are the same screenwriters who brought you The Fault in Our Stars, the love story (in)famously ending – spoiler alert – in tragedy when Augustus Waters died. It was an unconventional love story, and (500) Days of Summer begins with the acknowledgement that it is not a love story. It’s a story of boy meets girl, but that doesn’t make it a love story. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s a social experiment…

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom Hansen, who doesn’t believe he’ll have a happy life until he meets the one. Zooey Deschanel is Summer Finn, who doesn’t believe she’ll be happy without rejecting the idea of love. By putting them together, Neustadter and Weber are telling the story of two people – one who relies on being in love, the other relying on being out of love. And both are trapped by their beliefs. For that whole 500 days, none are actually happy with their situation, and there’s always the present possibility that both are pretending to be the way they are to make themselves believe they’re right. Hansen will pretend he loves Finn to make himself think he’s happy, and Finn pretends to not need love to make herself think she’s happy. But pretending to be happy never ends well, and the story’s almost like a realistic Shakespearean comedy, but without the happy ending. Even Finn’s name Summer is like a bad joke on Hansen as the person who’ll bring-out his darkest period of life across those 500 days. Those 500 days are themselves like a microcosm of life, with the events triggered by the results of the experiment being a simulated world attempting to answer the question: can we ever be happy?

So from the beginning, (500) Days of Summer establishes itself as a time bomb. It has 500 days to calculate an answer to the question, with the current state of these two characters’ emotions being the measuring stick, with-which the narrative determines what that answer is. So rather than take us through those 500 days, in an annoyingly inconsistently-lengthed and rushed montage, we’re instead given the relevant moments with a day counter giving us context. The ordering of the extracts is unobvious textually, but important subtextually, and is something you really have to think about to understand, but that’s not a bad thing, because it still mostly works on a storytelling level, even if some people will see it as a gimmick. It’s not inaccurate to consider it a gimmick, but that doesn’t make it superfluous. The story is still interesting on a surface level at least, and the structure shows that Neustadter and Weber understand basic storytelling, and once that pulls you in, they show you the rest, less simple side, of what they know, such as the use of editing to create entirely different meaning for the same shot just by placing it at a different part of the story, which is both prepped and foreshadowed in the middle act when a previous montage sequence of Finn’s replayed to opposing narration as the first time.

Not the mention the IKEA scene, which – and believe me, this is genuine – features the actual best acting I’ve ever seen. The way Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel meta-physically brought it to life made the whole thing. That supporting structure in their performance became the standardised moment by which every other scene worked, topped only by the semi-literal dance number in the park which should be used to finish off every great JGL tribute video.

(500) Days of Summer offers you a lot to like, and a lot more on-which to dwell. It manages to be both an engaging story of two people, while also being philosophical. Yes, the ending’s unlikely, but it isn’t unrealistic. The whole point of it is that it can happen in that story, because that’s the kind of world these characters inhabit.

It certainly put a smile on my face, anyway.

(500) Days of Summer – intelligent character narrative, deeply thoughtful. 9/10


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