Film Review: (500) Days of Summer

Perfect casting and all-around craftsmanship make this delightful, music-fueled contemporary rumination on a big-city romance a big summer surprise.

On the surface, Marc Webb’s feature debut (500) Days of Summer might sound alarms for a fussier breed of summer filmgoers. As a lighthearted tale of troubled love between two twenty-something urban professionals, told by a distraught hero via time-scrambled anecdotes and with a nonstop rock track, the prospects won’t bode well for some.
But (500) Days should emerge a summer winner. The little film that could and does is smart, funny, real, surprising, and hits the bull’s-eye on all production counts. Webb even manages to slip a rousing fantasy musical production number into his unfolding drama of love won, lost and, maybe, retrieved.

In the crazy-quilt telling of the story, anecdotal shards, introduced by the number of the day, bounce around with pinball dazzle. But an elegant plot of emotional truths, sustained suspense and unexpected reverses prevails. The story accrues into one poignant and picturesque puzzle that dares address the mysteries of love, fate, coincidence and the human animal.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an aspiring architect but has settled a little too comfortably into a job writing gooey copy for greeting cards. One day at work, he espies his boss Vance’s (Clark Gregg) new assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and a fatal crush sets in. Summer, fresh off the bus from Michigan, is bright, attractive and flirtatious, but just might be too hot for Tom to handle.

Just a few frames in, the film elicits its first big laugh with a pre-credit disclaimer that sets the funny-dark tone and is early in revealing that Tom will have a bumpy Summer ride. Tom coyly, coolly stalks her at work, they become chatty, and he eventually manages a date. Full speed ahead as both even share common interests like a love of The Smiths. A kind of romance blooms and their friendship gets physical, although Summer is cynical about love and there are hints the affair is dangerously one-sided.

Tom, the romantic of the duo, weathers the romantic ups and downs, aided by advice from co-worker McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend), wiser-than-her-years young sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz), and longtime-married, longtime pal Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), who is as settled in his personal life as Tom is unsettled.

In his impressive feature film debut, award-winning music-video veteran Marc Webb skillfully exploits several cinematic devices (frequent titles, split-screen, fanciful forays, the hero’s clarifying voice-overs, etc.) that never encroach upon the major task at hand—to tell a good story. His choices, whether the impeccable casting (Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel couldn’t be better), barely recognizable L.A. locations that suggest any metropolis, and inspired soundtrack of pop hits new and old (ranging from Hall and Oates to Carla Bruni, wife of France’s President), never sideline the story. And writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber deserve 500 cheers for the great story and script. Audiences across generations should have a summer of fun with this one.