Rewatch: (500) Days of Summer


This is the third entry in what has so far been a monthly series of rewatching old movies and judging them comparitively against my first reactions and how they have grown into pieces of wider culture. So far the series has included High School Musical and The Matrix click here to find them.

This movie came out in 2009–the height of my personal Zooey Deschanel fandom. Deschanel had adored our hearts (but mostly mine) in the Will Ferrell Christmas classic Elf and I had tracked her career ever since. I had watched her in David Gordon Green’s neo-realism relationship drama All the Real Girls and paid particular attention to the McConaughey/Jessica Parker relationship drama Failure to Launch where she plays the rom-com best friend role. After 2009 her career soared as my affections waned–her unique voice grew tiresome with each subsequent She & Him album and then The New Girl appeared. The New Girl took Deschanel’s charms and pushed them to 11 in an absolute quirk-fest that SNL found they could mine for comedy.¬†Likewise, (500) Days of Summer, while largely critically acclaimed, was criticized for being an overly quirky take on the romantic comedy. It throws in a lot of extra touches, for some elevating it to a clever film about romance–for others perhaps a grating annoyance. On a rewatch would Deschanel’s performance be akin to The New Girl or would I find the charm that adored my 13 year old heart?

More on Deschanel to come, but we must also talk about the way I adored this movie upon first watch. I saw it in theaters after anticipating it for quite a while and that year I believe I had it at number two on my best films of the year list, just ahead of Inglorious Basterds and just behind Up. I have watched it several times since then and it has always held up for me, but I feel as if critically it increasingly gets derided for breaking Deschanel into the mainstream in a way most people did not want. This time I intended to be extra critical of the film, trying to find faults in it that I may have glanced over in the past.

The film uses unique editing to showcase this relationship–one that it very intentionally states is trying to subvert the standard portrayal of romance in film. Its use of whimsy can either be taken as clever or as off-putting. People often grow tired of stories of hip, white, city-dwelling kids and their “troubles”. I certainly understand why this would be the case for some–even its pop cultural awareness can grow tiring if one doesn’t believe that the film stands apart from its references. But I do believe that it comes together to make something grander than cute editing tricks and references to The Graduate and The Smiths. Sure it’s a very specific tale of modern romance, but the film leaves itself open to interpretation–like a great work of art would–allowing room for debate and inviting viewers to feel different things about it depending on their own experience.

It opens with two introductions, interplaying the stories of our two protagonists, Summer and Tom, and sharing their two viewpoints on love bound to intertwine in this messy relationship that will soon total 500 days. Though the story is told very specifically through Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom, the opening shots include photos of both characters’ childhoods. Both of their back stories matter as both will come together to form this complicated relationship that is about to unveil. And the film lets you know just how diametrically opposed these two are–essentially concluding that there is a duality of perspectives: true love is a fated thing or it doesn’t exist at all.

This is where I think the film speaks profoundly; in life this debate truly exists and I have wholeheartedly come down on both sides of it. I once believed that love was a destined thing, chasing after the “one”, and knowing that two people were especially bound to one another. I’ve also believed that there is no fate like love, people are only tied together by their own choice. The film plays off of this tension and depending on your beliefs you tend to root for one character over the other.

When I first watched it I was on Summer’s side and thought Tom to be near-laughable. I was shocked to hear the reactions of others as they saw her as a manipulative heart breaker. Since then I’ve bridled my pro-Summer stance, noticing how broken of a character she is while still somewhat siding with her beginning views on life.

What I find so brilliant about all of this is that the film never takes either character’s side. In fact, it smartly switches each character’s position on the love debate and when Summer and Tom meet for that final conversation, each tells the other that they were the ones who were right. And both characters were right to an extent, each needed to gain the perspective of the other to come out as a whole person ready to take on the commitment of love. Summer needed to understand that long-term relationships were possible, while Tom needed to learn that “just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.” The film works as a mirror, one that reflects back to you your beliefs on love, constantly shifting as you yourself mature, but is always able to provide something insightful.


Beyond this I do believe the film is really capable of showing the ups and downs of a relationship (though probably from a particularly male perspective). Director Marc Webb and screenwriting duo Scott Eric Neustadter and Michael H. Weber really do work together here to create something unique. It expresses those relationship beats wonderfully. The back to back IKEA scenes showing the desperate attempt to spark romance by recreating something that worked early on. The song and dance that comes after Tom and Summer sleep together for the first time. How Tom analyzes each and every moment leading up to their first kiss. The parallel descriptions of Summer’s attributes. And finally, the expectations vs. reality dual scene where Tom thinks he can get Summer back. These are all wonderfully rendered scenes that truly express what it is like to be in a relationship on par with just about any other movie I’ve seen.

There are parts of this movie that don’t work, but even at my most critical I cannot truly be bothered by them. The jump around nature of the film isn’t necessary, but does serve the story fairly well. The documentary interviews that randomly show up should probably be cut from the film. The scenes with the sister (played by a young Chloe Grace Moretz) are the most irksome of anything in the film, but they really are minimally used and don’t drag it down by any means.

That brings us back to Deschanel. She is definitely at her most Deschanel here, but it’s in a way that serves her character–the manic pixie dream girl that breaks a heart instead of mending it. She is the girl that the type like Tom will infatuate over, but proves that she is something more than someone to serve his story. Her wants and desires are expressed and when they don’t line up with his she is given the agency to go her own way (even if this does, unfortunately, take place off screen). Before¬†New Girl took her quirks and amplified them, 500 used them to subvert the modern indie romance and ultimately made a pretty perfect film.

Rating: 5/5


*This is like the first piece of fiction I’ve written in years. Hope you like it.*

Fake spiders lined the walls, the Beckerman family’s way of getting into the holiday spirit. This was really unsuccessful and rather than creating that frightening aura, it brought about that smell of the Halloween costume store–a plasticky, musty smell from a place that somehow manages to stay open 365 days a year despite having a month long busy season at best.

Andy ducked his head to avoid the fake spider webs as he entered the kitchen. He saw Mrs. Beckerman preparing cookies–store bought packaged Pillsbury types, with Frankensteins and witches printed somewhat colorfully on each one. A subpar design for a subpar cookie–again the Beckerman’s attempt to gain that holiday spirit.

He had his costume in hand, the Grinch, to match his girlfriend’s Cindy Lou Who; he wondered if his girlfriend’s suggestion to be this was a hint of what she thought of him, but he always over thought things.

He heard music coming from Andrea’s room, Dashboard Confessional, say what you will about the ridiculousness of dressing up in cutesy double date costumes, but Andrea and Allison’s musical tastes were always on point. They had all been brought together by going to shows and swapping cds. It was what made them–them.

Andy entered the room, he saw Mark sitting on Andrea’s bed flipping through pictures on her computer. Andrea was adjusting her costume, a goblin, though one that was only mildly scary, Halloween was not a day for completely de-beautifying, even if that was the whole point.

He looked right and there she was, Allison, sitting in Andrea’s overstuffed fluffy chair, halfway ready, her hair in her eyes. She shook her head gently, moving her hair the half-inch necessary to optimize her ability to see the Ipod she held in her hands without having to actually move the hair from her face. Her Ipod selection ability was always something he had admired about her, but now–

“What do you think?” Mark asked, pointing to his costume, black clothing with a hood and a slightly painted face.

“You’re looking so ghoulish,” Andy replied.

“That’s right! Ghouls and goblins! Perfect match!” Mark and Andrea’s themed costume wasn’t quite as elaborate–or as cutesy. Then again their flare was never for the dramatic; in the same way they never committed to things, they never were really into it like Andy and Allison were.

“Hey babe,” Allison smiled, a weak smile–it was hard to tell whether she was regrettably putting forth a lot of effort or was intentionally avoiding effort. Either way, her greeting was weak or worse, nonchalant.

“Hey,” Andy said as he sat next to Mark on the bed. Allison settled on a song, The Beatles.

“Psychedelic,” she said, “setting the mood for tonight.”

“I can’t believe we’re going trick or treating,” Mark threw this into the air, sensing the weird tension. “Last year people were telling me I was too old already.”

“We’re young, c’mon we’re dumb. Let’s get crazyyy,” Andrea was all for this–going into her ironically wild, except for not actually that ironic girl character.

“Eh you kids these days,” Mark responded, feigning wisdom in his 1940s Dad character, “ah boy I see guys running around in girl’s jeans. Can you believe it? The jeans of a woman!” Mark was always critical of the critical.

It was all very cute.

As they readied themselves, Allison sat on Andy’s lap–her face looking increasingly like a Whoville citizen, one of those happy-go-lucky Dr. Seuss characters who actually have beating hearts. As she came near, Andy’s heart beat increased–unlike holiday cheer, her presence could always get those emotions rolling.

They finished getting ready and got ready to leave. Mrs. Beckerman approached with a plate full of ‘goodies’, this time frosted cookies meant to look like eye balls–suburban life allows for such creativity.

They walked out ready for a night full of fun, Andy holding a plastic bag in his hand, ever aware of how false it all was.

Well that was it. It was done. Over.

The dripping of makeup down her face, smearing as she pulled away from him. She had asked for a Twix and he had replied how Twix sucks and she had slowed down and they stopped between two houses as Andrea and Mark walked ahead.

A Twix bar. A Grinch and a Who. The makeup ran down her face as she cried, telling him that it wasn’t working anymore. Any. More.

Anymore? The tearing apart of two people is sometimes the only thing that makes you feel. Andy had been sad. Of course he had been sad, life is sad. But now it was different. It was tragic. It was broken. Shredded. Instead of normal it was now torn at the seams.

“Things just aren’t right anymore–between us. It’s just, just, not right.”

Why is it in the most vital of moments that rhetoric chooses to collapse? Andy thought. He had always thought and never said. Even in this moment he kept his mouth shut. This may have bothered her but she had never said anything because they never said anything.

“I just can’t do it anymore, us, we’re not doing anything. We need to move on, to move somewhere.”

It’s always cliches in the tough circumstances. It’s like the creative part of the brain shuts off, reverting back to everything that’s been heard, repeated over and over. And here they stood between a house with flashing lights–a ‘spooky’ effect with no affect–and a house with dorky Jack o’ Lanterns carved by parents whose children could not actually do it themselves. It’s like the parents were using their children as catalysts for their own self-expression, this time it came in the form of a crappy pumpkin. Holiday spirit.

She was wearing a Who costume! Brightly colored, makeup-ed to accentuate those cheek bones, representing a character whose pureness of heart literally causes another character’s heart to burst because of their kindness. And he was the Grinch. And she had stomped it, leaving him to pick up the pieces between the kids waddling around in Scream and football player outfits.

In that moment there was no worse, more horrific person than Dr. Seuss.

Andy took a bite of his burrito, chicken with guac. Because when life sucks you pay extra for that guac.

He had actually gotten the burrito half-off. Chipotle’s special, wear foil on Halloween and half off a burrito. What a deal.

“How are you feeling?”

Again with the cliches.

It was his friend Thomas, five years older than himself and the one whom he texted straight away. Mark couldn’t do this. Mark looked at him with pain in his eyes, that insinuated he was sorry, but Mark wouldn’t be good in this moment; he would be terrible. It was unreasonable to ask him to leave, even if the festivities had taken a darker turn. But, this is Halloween.

Thomas had suggested Chipotle, after all there was a deal. Thomas wasn’t especially wise, but he was older and Andy always felt comforted in this.

“It feels weird, I don’t know what to do or feel” Andy replied.

“God man. That sucks. On Halloween? I guess holidays don’t make us immune from heart break. Or anything really.”

“Good point. Why does it make it feel worse?”

Thomas sighed, he thought for a second, “I guess cuz it’s supposed to be a celebration. A day that feels special. It’s just one of those things we look forward to. Those high points in the ups and downs of life. But I guess that’s an inconsistent view of life.”

Andy thought. What did he expect life to be? Or today to be?

False. That’s what he had expected. A sham of a day where people pretended to be scared of people pretending to do scary things. That’s what Halloween was right? Multiple layers of disguise, where we pretend to be what we think we should be pretending to be.

“How’s that burrito?” Thomas asked, breaking silence once again.

“It’s fine, I wish I would have gotten the pork over the chicken,” he took another bite.

“So… do you think you saw this coming? Like, were you expecting this?”

Andy thought about this. There were the passive aggressive text messages where they both acted like they were alright, with silent daggers hidden in every one. He could spend hours thinking about the meaning of each symbol she sent–and he, like a poet, constructed his texts to convey the most meaning in the fewest words possible.

That was love, doing the best you could not to fight with one another. Avoiding tension, smiling at one another, because having a girlfriend was fun right? But she had ended that. Allison pushed into that layer of truth and had ended it. She let all the air out and she hadn’t done it slowly either, just in one big pop. It was probably for the better, but screw her anyways.

“No man, I thought things were going great.”

“Wow, that sucks. What a heartbreaker.”

They finished their burritos and got up to leave. A family dressed as farmers took their place.

Andy walked out the door, smiled at the person walking in, and put on his mask.