By JP Chapman | July 22, 2009
Director: Marc Webb
Writer(s): Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Every so often, a movie comes along that embodies the essence of a mix tape. John Hughes has done this to great success a number of times, and Zach Braff managed to pull it off with Garden State not too long ago. With (500) Days of Summer, director Marc Webb makes his own effort to join these ranks, and to admirable results. Outside of the emotional content of the story and Andrea von Feorster’s musical input, the driving force behind this “mixtape cinema” feeling is found in Webb’s history. (500) Days is Webb’s first foray into the full length feature; prior to which, he had primarily been a contributor to the world of MTV. Working with artists such as Green Day, My Chemical Romance, AFI, and even Pussycat Dolls; Webb has learned how to tell a story with a soundtrack, and shows off this skill with a vengeance in (500) Days.
From a plot perspective, (500) Days follows the story of Tom (Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Deschanel) as they work together at a Los Angeles greeting card company and discover each other through music and art. Tom is a hopeless romantic and idealist that holds tight to the hope of true love, embodied in the film by his headfirst dives into the Smiths era of Brit-Pop, and into being the sloganeer for congratulatory and Valentine’s Day cards. Meanwhile, Summer is a transplant from Michigan that doesn’t believe in love or relationships-yet whose personality is compounded via her being portrayed as the girl that every man falls for over the course of her life. Tom ignores Summer until they connect over an aforementioned Smiths song in an elevator. A karaoke performance of the Pixies further cements their attraction, which segues into a period of hanging out, the beginnings of falling in love, and numerous moments of humor skillfully interjected between deep thoughts woven into the script. Webb handles all of this deftly, jumping back and forth in time through the course of their 500 day relationship. We move from Tom distraught over their breakup to a joyous first kiss. In another scene, we see the “happy” couple silently walking through an IKEA refusing to speak with each other, then move back to happier times as they imagine life as a married couple in the numerous staged rooms. While these could normally be viewed as distracting, the time shifts are handled with great care, thanks in part to the well written script, and aided by excellent performances by both Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt.
If Garden State was a film depicting a search for direction in the lost life of a twenty-something, this film is the next step in maturity for that same individual. Tom is a failed dreamer, that once hoped to work as an architect, but that has given up and settled for a dead end job that meets his needs, but that holds no passion for him. The same seems to have been the case in his pursuit of relationships. In this sense, (500) Days reads almost as a coming of age tale, that chases myself and my peers through our lives. This was a great film—I’m looking forward to whatever Webb has in store for the future, and hope that he’s able to give the Pussycat Dolls a rest for a while. Who knows, perhaps we’ll meet the next step of maturity in his next film…a mortgage.
*Ending note-the soundtrack for this film is seriously great. Check out “Sweet Disposition” from Australian band, The Temper Trap below. They skillfully pick up where the Stills left off after Logic Will Break Your Heart.