(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Fox Searchlight
Have you ever noticed that there are all kinds of songs about love? Every type of love is covered in music, as is every stage of romance, from the longing of unrequited love all the way through to the depths of heartbreak. No matter how you are feeling romantically at any given time, you can find it reflected in song, just cue it up on your iPod and you’ve got immediate musical empathy. Music just has a way of connecting—of getting it.

Hollywood, on the other hand, hasn’t always been so empathetic—or varied—about love. They call Hollywood the Dream Factory for a reason. They are in the business of creating fantasy, of crafting a vision of the world that is all at once desirable and wholly unattainable. And it is through Hollywood that our vision of romantic love is established. That ideal of the perfect love, “true love,”— shaped by destiny, fate or some other emotional torpedo over which we have no control— seems to be Hollywood’s favorite theme.

Call me a cynic, but maybe this theme is actually hurting the concept of what real love really is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the biggest consumer of these movies of all. Nobody loves a romance more than I do, especially the romantic comedies, but even I can now recognize that they are not realistic. Even I can now admit the truth: Hollywood is full of crap. Love is a complex emotion that is ever-evolving and multi-dimensional. And the idealized vision of “happy ever after” that we all search for because we see it happen all the time in the movies, is sadly virtually unattainable in the real world—at least the way it is usually portrayed onscreen.

But what people want is the dream. People don’t want to watch movies about how much hard work it takes to keep a relationship going, and how all that passionate lust actually morphs into a deep committed bond that sometimes isn’t all that sexy. And they certainly don’t want to go see a film about getting dumped. People want to buy the intense passion of perfect, idealized love, the way they would dream it up in their heads. So you can’t blame Hollywood for selling it. The movies are where we escape, after all.

But, once in a while, just once in a while, I love to see a movie that twists the Dream on its head, throws the Hollywood theme out the window and really tells it like it is. (500) Days of Summer is a movie that connects. And it relates. It may not be the best movie ever made, but it certainly goes in my book as one of the most authentic.

The opening narration of (500) Days of Summer proclaims the film to be “not a love story.” It is, however, a story about love. About love in the real world and what happens when love happens to real people (which it invariably does). It is a story about wanting love, about denying love, about letting love in, about basking in it once it happens, and about reeling from it when we lose it. There is no more complex emotion than love, it makes us do crazy things, makes us feel even crazier things, makes us doubt ourselves, makes us confident in ourselves, makes the world feel small, makes the world feel huge. Anyone who has ever been in love—in all the real ways— will find at least one moment in (500) Days of Summer to relate to, but that’s not what makes it so wonderful.

Sometimes the biggest events in our lives are the unremarkable everyday ones, the ordinary details that end up making up the days of our lives. (500) Days of Summer is a movie about the details of 500 of those days in one man’s life, the 500 days he spends falling in love with, being in love with, and being heartbroken over a woman named Summer. It is truly unremarkable in its scope and breadth, but vastly entertaining in heart and soul. It has no great story to tell, other than recounting the path of a relationship from start to end and the various emotions that occur within it—and it is terrific every step of the way. And utterly relatable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom and it is through his eyes that the story is told and seen. Gordon-Levitt, who is probably best remembered as a regular on the television series Third Rock from the Sun, is truly charming and awkwardly endearing as a guy who gets caught up in the wonderful, cruel and entangling mess that love can be. As an actor, Gordon-Levitt doesn’t have a large range of emotions, but he manages to show us enough humanity and authenticity to win us over. Zooey Deschanel, on the other hand, who plays Summer, is surprisingly stiff and distant, but, fortunately, it fits with her character, although makes it difficult to really buy Tom’s attraction to her. Either way, though, you get on board and the film rewards you with a funny and captivating journey through the maze of the heart and a brutal honesty not too often seen from Hollywood.

Bottom line, (500) Days of Summer is funny, endearing, warm, real and honest. I think I can find a song that would be perfect right now…