As dedications go, the one to (500) Days of Summer tells you immediately that we are definitely not in rom-com land anymore, Toto: "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.” Wow. And although the film is fun, occasionally true and makes you feel incredibly sorry for the main character, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the underlying bitterness makes the female lead (Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel) a mysterious caricature. Why does Tom bother falling for her at all? But first, the good stuff. Watch out for the spoilers...
Tom writes messages in greeting cards for a living, despite studying architecture at university. One day, the new girl walks in and Tom immediately falls head over heels. Unfortunately, she doesn't believe in love - so what does Tom do? He sets out to change her mind, of course.
What follows is a non-chronological playback of their relationship, the way you try to remember things once they have disappeared. By placing scenes from either end of the relationship next to each other, the film deftly makes the point that time almost always eats away at that honeymoon feeling, but only strengthens the hold of nostalgia. For instance, Tom makes a small joke about a sink in one scene, causing Summer to walk off silently. Why? It wasn't that bad a joke. Then there it is, the kicker - they spent one of their early dates strolling through Ikea, pretending to be a real couple, and they shared a cute joke about a sink. The emotional punch of finding out the reason for Summer's snub of Tom is made all the greater because we come to it backwards. That's how memory sometimes works, and the film's chronological and split-screen devices (expectations have never been so cruelly dashed) make this point effectively. Only when something is over can you truly analyse it.
The weak link in this fun, sometimes very true, film is, glaringly, Summer. Not the acting - if anything, Deschanel probably makes more winsome, as she is apt to do. But who goes and gets engaged to someone and then invites the unsuspecting recent ex to the engagement party, which is how he finds out? So, co-writer Scott Neustadter, if that's how the real Summer did it, well, then fine. It seems like a cowardly, even callous thing to do, but it could happen. We're seeing things very much through the eyes of the rejected one, so Summer was never going to get the most sympathetic treatment, although it does seem that fate smiles upon her a lot more than it does upon poor old Tom.
It's a fresh new take on the usual rom-com stuff, with a surprisingly bittersweet conclusion for our hero. Worth a watch if only for the drunken karaoke scene.
A side note: the sassy little sister thing did not work at all. Anyone who needs dating advice from a 10-year-old is doing a lot wrong.
(500) Days of Summer is out now on DVD.