Welcome to another wonder of Indiewood – (500) Days of Summer. It’s more wood than indie.
Once again, browsing my university e-mails at gone 1am, in my folder sits reminder of a presentation I have to give the day after tomorrow. My, as of yet, unbeknown to me study group selected (500) Days of Summer as our focus film. Having a mental block on rom-coms, I had, of course, not watched it. But! luckily the boys living over the road had a copy for me to borrow.
It went into my laptop with a reluctant unease after having read reviews in which critics think comments like this are acceptable: “It’s deliciously refreshing, sweet and fizzy. A sherbet dip of a movie” (Time Out).
My expectations of disappointment were definitely fulfilled. With the indie tag, the set-up is a rom-com which is quirky, oddball, off-beat, unconventional, with a voiceover man to indicate that “this is not a love story.” Thank you, voiceover man. Liar.
- Tom and Summer being all indie – his t-shirt is very apt – and definitely being part of a love story.
The premise is insipid boy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loves vaguely bohemian girl (Zooey Deschanel) who doesn’t want to ‘label’ their relationship, ever. Over the course of 500 days, which given is set up in a sexy non-linear narrative, we see their relationship spark, crumble, dissipate, with them eating pancakes – and twinkies, but I don’t know what twinkies are. Is there really anything much different from a standard rom-com?
Nonetheless, it was a sleeper-hit, stacking up over $60 million at the box office. Fox Searchlight must’ve done something right, what with its Sundance premiere, Twitter-driven marketing, and the team-up with Guardian soulmates to create ‘screenmates,’ a marketing gimmick where an online dating couple could win tickets to the premiere.
I may have been a little harsh – I can’t argue that there aren’t some redeeming features. Most notably is the innovative expectations vs. reality scene, in which the screen splits in two. On the left are the optimistic, romantic expectations which Tom (Gordon-Levitt) has for his evening with Summer (Deschanel); juxtaposed on the right is the bleak reality where Tom discovers Summer is engaged to some other guy who probably works out a lot.
- The expectations vs. reality scene, in which Tom imagines his perfect romance scenario, whilst the unfortunate reality plays out alongside it.
The soundtrack is also on it with some classic Smiths tracks, some Belle and Sebastian, and even ending on a Mumm-Ra song. The hand-drawn graphics for the credits and Tom’s sad scene (where the film should have ended) are really lovely, definitely saw that two years ago in Juno, but still lovely. And I definitely appreciate that Hugh Grant wasn’t there. There was some hope for it…
Yet the ending is a crashing reality of rom-com cliché. What’s supposed to be a different film doesn’t actually manage to defy much as it plates up a nice but tepid resolution. We know that Tom doesn’t get Summer, Tom’s alone, and that’s great, because a lot of people are alone, relatable, life goes on. However, Webb just couldn’t help himself: in the last few minutes, a pretty girl turns up to the same job interview as Tom and agrees to go for a coffee with him. When he asks her name, she replies “Autumn.” Of course it is, love.
(500) Days of Summer, dir. Marc Webb (2009, USA)
For those that would like to argue it fulfils the ‘indie’-ness – yes I take your point, it has its moments – perhaps these colloquial guidelines of the formulaic indie rom-com clichés will make you question whether there is a template already for the indie rom-com, so is it really different from the next rom-com on the rose-distorted shelf? Here’s a thought…