In a summer where few pictures provide the thrills they auspiciously promise to deliver, with the likes of Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen stinking up the theaters (especially the latter), is it possible to convince movie-goers to see a low key independent film like 500 Days of Summer? I certainly hope so. It is thus far, by a large margin, the best film to be released this year.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a worker at a greeting card company whose job is to come up with new sayings for a variety of different cards. Ever since he became old enough to understand love, he has believed that he won't be happy until he finds his soul mate. He's a hopeless romantic and believes that as long as you have love, you have everything in the world. Once new employee Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel, arrives at the office, he immediately falls head over heels for her. Unfortunately, Summer doesn't believe in true love and refuses to commit to anything serious, instead opting to have a casual relationship with Tom.
The film chronicles the 500 days that Summer is in Tom's life, including a hilarious scene conveying his happiness the morning after their first night together, where the world looks just a little bit brighter; people stop and smile at him, fountains explode in gushes of water when he passes, and his infectious joy convinces others around him to join in a song and dance number.
The brilliance of 500 Days of Summer is that it doesn't portray a relationship from an outsider's perspective. Instead, it shows how the relationship looks from the eyes of Tom. No, of course the city's citizens didn't erupt into dance because Tom's happiness prompted them to, but rather it was how Tom saw the world on that particular day. His blissfulness blinded him from actuality, unaware of the many flaws of a broken world, but he was happy. As far as he was concerned, everything was perfect. From this first person perspective, it allows the viewer to not only sense how Tom feels, but see his feelings up close and personal, flying high with him during the good times and sinking during the bad, including a terrific scene where he walks out into the middle of the street and everything in front of him is erased, first fading of all color, and then objects, until only his black silhouette stands in isolation, showing that at that moment he literally felt alone, not just single.
Although 500 Days of Summer doesn't necessarily follow the usual romantic comedy conventions, its story is still fairly familiar, breaking little new ground from a traditional point of view. However, it's the way the story is told that is so fascinating, elevating it above the plethora of generic rom-coms we've been subjected to over the years. At one point in the film, when Tom and Summer are rekindling their relationship after having not seen each other in a while, a narrator comes on and tells us that Tom's confidence assured him that his expectations for the evening would mirror reality, to which it then split screens, with the left side showing "Expectations" and the right "Reality," while the two play out simultaneously showing us the differences.
This moment is only one example of filmmaking ingenuity, with seemingly endless new ideas and a brilliantly written script that jumps through place and time constantly, but never gets confusing. As I sat there in the theater, entranced by what I was seeing, I was reminded of why I love going to the movies in the first place. It all adds up to an impeccable piece of work that deserves to go down in history with the likes of When Harry Met Sally as a romantic comedy classic. 500 Days of Summer is one of the most original and refreshing movies I've seen in years and I'll be surprised if anything tops it by the time December rolls around. It truly is a crowning achievement in film and a real treat for movie lovers.
500 Days of Summer receives 5/5