(500) Days of Summer

MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★★★
Release year: 2009
Genre: Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Romance Director: Webb

This is a story about a boy and a girl, but this is not a love story. The narrator makes this abundantly clear right at the beginning of (500) Days of Summer. And for the next 90+ minutes, the story perfectly portrays the postmodern romantic zeitgeist.

For those of us under the age of 30, we’ve grown up in a media-saturated world with two contradictory views about love. There is the naively idealistic notion of love portrayed in popular films and music. This is the soul-mate love, the “I just can’t help it” love, the sweaty palms and broken hearts kind of love. This is the Jack-and-Rose, the formulaic romantic comedy, the idea that there is someone special out there for each of us.

Then there’s the biological/hedonistic view of love, which has mostly has to do with either hooking up or procreating. There aren’t soul mates or warm fuzzy feelings in love; our exorbitant amount of divorces and crappy marriages proves it. When scientists find the chemicals in our brain that make us “love” someone and we watch our parents’ marriages fall apart, we’re convinced that true love might not even exist. So if it doesn’t exist, we might as well take advantage of what nature gave us and hook up with the hottest people we can find before we get old and wrinkly.

We’re given both views quite readily, and sometimes even in the same song, film, or TV commercial. (As a case study, read the lyrics to every song off Justin Timberlake’s album “Bringing Sexy Back.” He jumps from heartbreak from a monogamous relationship to hooking up with the hottest and/or drunkest girl at the club. When he proclaims that he is the bringer of all that is sexy, he must know what he’s talking about.)

Tom has the former view of love. He’s idealistic, emotion-driven, and a bit angsty. Tom’s existence in L.A. is rather mundane, working for a greeting card company and wondering where his life is headed. That changes when the titular character of Summer enters his life. And for 500 days, Tom’s life is defined by this enchanting woman with her frank honesty, her ’60s hairstyle, her bright eyes, and her complete disinterest in love. Summer is the latter type of love. She’s very up front about not wanting a serious relationship and holds on to her opinion of love for the length of the film. The two are a perfect contrast, which makes them a perfect couple for this case study on love in the 21st century.

The narrative jumps all over the place during those 500 days, painting an elaborate mosaic of a story. For the Internet-using ADD generation this film represents, this style of narrative is perfect. We see Tom and Summer in every mood as their relationship begins on that idealistic high and sinks to a devastating low upon breaking up. (Yes, they break up. This isn’t a love story, remember?). Filmmaker Marc Webb uses some creatively original elements to communicate the emotion of the moment, from dance sequences to animation. A particularly wonderful scene sets up a split screen between Tom’s expectations and reality, contrasting the two simultaneously and allowing the audience to really feel Tom’s disappointment when his dream begins to fall apart.

The film is also infused with pop culture. Some are quite discernible, such as a romp through IKEA and references to The Beatles and The Smiths. Some are a bit more obscure, like a sequence where Tom sees himself in Ingmar Bergman films. There is a heavy reference toThe Graduate, as Tom’s entire view of love is based on a misreading of the film (and sad British pop music). But this is where our culture is at, right? I wonder how much of my generation’s view of love is influenced by romantic comedies, pop songs, and the observation of their parents’ failed marriages.

As a film, the story is never dull, the cinematography is creative and original, the characters are delightful (if a bit frustrating at times), and the script is refreshingly honest. For all of the ups and downs of love in the story, it has a strong message about the power of marriage and true love when it’s finally found. Despite being raised on the Internet and wondering if true love really exists, we have hope. There are healthy relationships out there. Love does exist; it just takes the right person at the right time. (500) Days of Summer is the Annie Hall of the 21st century and one of my favorite films of 2009 thus far.

IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1022603/

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