#ThrowbackThursday – (500) Days of Summer

Original US release date: July 17, 2009
Production budget: $7,500,000
Worldwide gross: $60,722,734

It’s hard to believe that (500) Days of Summer is now over nine years old (that’s 3,304 days of (500) Days of Summer, to be exact).  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the film was the first to be directed by Marc Webb, who went on to helm the two Amazing-Spider-Man films for Sony.  At the time, though, he was just trying to expand out of the world of music videos and he was doing so with the help of two buzzy leads and one of the sharpest scripts to come along in years.

Following the funniest disclaimer ever, the film opens with the narrator (Richard McGonagle) declaring that what follows is “a story of boy meets girl” but it “is not a love story”.  From there, we meet Tom (Gordon-Levitt).  Tom has struggled with finding love while simultaneously convincing himself that love is the only route to happiness in life.  One momentous day (“Most days of the year are unremarkable.”), he meets Summer (Deschanel): The One.  The fact that Summer doesn’t believe that love exists is only a slight deterrent as Tom pursues her and takes the viewer along on the 500-day-long roller coaster ride.

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If we’re talking in terms of pure quality, I’m not sure that anyone has had such a stellar feature-film directorial debut as Marc Webb with did with (500) Days of Summer.  Yes, I’ve thought that statement through.  There have been more impactful first films.  There have been more enduring first films.  There have been more financially successful first films.  But I can’t think of an objectively, artistically better first film than this one.  The movie doesn’t just succeed; it excels – at every level possible.  From the visual presentation to the script to the performances to the emotional impact and resonance to the brutal relatability, Marc Webb, his cast, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and everyone else involved in the production craft a film that firmly takes place towards the end of the initial decade from the 2000s, but will speak to anyone who has ever felt like they’ve met The One – and possibly been wrong.

There has never been a more realistic film about relationships than (500) Days of Summer – at least not that I’ve seen.  There’s a good reason for that; the film is based on screenwriter Scott Neustadter and his relationship with a girl by the name of Jenny Beckman (who gets a sweet little nod in the film).  In the commentary, Neustadter states that he approximates 75% of film as being something he’s experienced.  Well, that makes two of us, buddy, because I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced 75% of it, too.  This isn’t the typical Hollywood romance, with rose-colored glasses fully engaged and an unrealistic worldview on relationships.  This is honest and true from the beginning to the end.

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The story truly stands apart from others of its kind simply by being told from the male perspective.  If anyone has ever seen this film and wondered if that’s what it’s really like for us guys, I can confirm that it absolutely is.  It’s accurate to the point of embarrassment.  Many – perhaps even most – men try to portray themselves as emotionally hard, not caring about love or romance of any of that jazz.  They loudly proclaim that they hate romantic movies, love songs, and anything that even approximates that cheesy garbage.  Yeah, that’s all crap.  When you hear that stuff, it’s just posturing stemming from insecurity.  Webb basically exposes the truth about men and relationships with this film and it’s pure brilliance.  Gordon-Levitt – like most of us – likely works from experience, here, and does all the little things that he needs to do in order to wrap the narrative in a warm blanket of authenticity – a must that was his responsibility, alone.  This is possibly his finest performance, though it’s also so subtle that it too often goes overlooked.

Though the entire film is undeniably tremendous, one scene in particular stands out as not only the best in the movie, but one of my favorite individual scenes in all of film history.  I won’t give the context, for the benefit of those of you who have yet to discover this movie (and discovering it should be high on your list of priorities), but it’s simply referred to as the Expectations vs. Reality scene.  That scene, more than any other scene, most succinctly and accurately epitomizes the male mind regarding relationships.  It also reflects actual life so precisely that there almost feels no need for any other future filmmakers to attempt to do so.  Both in concept and execution, Expectations vs. Reality is the pinnacle of filmmaking and scenes such as this one almost never come along.

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(500) Days of Summer is Hollywood’s attempt to make a romantic dramedy for realists, rather than for the hopeless romantic.  There are no icebergs, no vampires, and no . . . uh . . . BDSM to be found here.  There are just two perfectly cast actors portraying characters with different worldviews who cross paths at the right time.  No matter how the narrative concludes or what the characters’ unique perspectives are, Webb takes the anti-Hollywood stance that relationships are not everything, they should not be forced, and they should not be anyone’s sole goal in life – male or female.  But, at the same time, if one is fortunate enough to find the right one, it can be great and worth holding on to.  The film offers up laughter and it offers up tears but it also reminds us that we are each our own person with plenty to offer the world besides a relationship.  Spend 95 minutes with (500) Days of Summer; you’ll be better off for it.

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