(500) Days of Summer
Summer Finn, a narrator tells us, is an average woman in many ways—like height and weight, though slightly above average shoe size. Yet something about her arrests men's attention. She gets an average of 18.4 double takes per day. This is, we are told, "the Summer Effect."
She's the new assistant to Vance, who runs a greeting card company. Tom Hansen, one of the card writers, is struck by her presence. A few days later, in an elevator, she overhears the Smiths leaking from Tom's earphones. "I love the Smiths!" she says, then softly sings along, "'To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die.'"
And so a relationship begins. But what kind of relationship is it? In a conversation soon after at work, Tom says it's possible to meet the one you were made for and fall in love forever. Summer says she doesn't believe in love; all she wants is to "have fun and save the serious stuff for later." At this, Tom's bug-eyed coworker McKenzie blurts out, "She's a dude!"
This movie charts 500 days in Tom and Summer's relationship, skipping forward and backward during that time (though preceding each scene with the day's number, to keep us oriented; this is not one of those artsy time-shuffle films that sets out to confuse you). And, though it's billed as a comedy, it casts a powerfully romantic spell. There will be proposals in the wake of this movie. Yet it's determinedly unsentimental, and there's nothing about it to repel male viewers. It doesn't look particularly romantic from the outside. It sneaks up on you.
What it does look like is an extraordinarily creative stretch of filmmaking. There are segments that recall Michel Gondry's special effects (particularly in Eternal Sunlight of the Spotless Mind), as an entire streetscape changes from photography to a sketch then fades away. There are parodic moments that recall Woody Allen (particularly in Love and Death), as when Tom, dejected, watches a classic Ingmar Bergman movie and becomes one of the characters, a knight playing a game with, not Death, but Cupid. There's great use of split screen, a staple of romantic comedies since the Doris Day / Rock Hudson days, in this case showing us "Expectation" and "Reality" when Tom goes to a party at Summer's apartment. Elements of The Graduate are used to good effect. The morning after the first time Summer and Tom sleep together, Tom glances at his reflection in a car window and sees a Star Wars-era Harrison Ford. And I'm not even going to try to describe the exuberant song-and-dance sequence that follows, patterned directly, it seems, on the great falling-in-love spectacle in Central Park in Enchanted. (An animated bluebird even perches on Tom's finger). This is a movie that is enormously fun to watch (and I mean that literally), because something clever and unexpected is always about to meet your eye.
What's lacking, I think, is a story. Tom and Summer meet and have fun together, then things cool off, and a little later there's an ending. (It's an unexpected and gratifying ending, though, which elicited happy applause). Is the character of Summer fascinating enough in itself to carry the film? I don't know. She's not a minx or a mystery woman, and she isn't a smoldering source of sexual tension and emotional sadism like the bad ladies of old-time movies. She has a wide-eyed look and a knack for quirky opinions ("'Octopus's Garden' is the best Beatles song ever. I love Ringo." "But nobody loves Ringo." "That's why I do.") Her clothes are cute, not sexy, and not a bit revealing. She wears her dark hair in bangs, sometimes in a high ponytail, sometimes with a bow on top. Her voice is a bit high, with a charming little break in it. I realized: she's Marlo Thomas. She's the dream girl of 1966, straight off the set of That Girl. This is a very endearing type, but not one that fascinates like a cobra, in the Marlene Dietrich sense. Ninety-five minutes may be about all you want.