When an office posts flyers that say “Walk-In Hours – 3p.m. – 6 p.m.”, one would reasonably believe that someone will be in the office till 6 p.m. So when I arrived at Pepperdine University’s Career Center for resume assistance at 5:20 p.m. and no one was there, I was not pleased. When I asked the only person left in the office if the Career folks had knocked off early, she said that yes, in the summer they often left around 5 p.m.
Really? Then why does it say until 6 on all these flyers and boards they have all over the campus?
Well, it’s summer, so…
I was aware of the calendar season. I had just driven 30 minutes north in a car without AC through 90 degree heat and would now be driving an hour back to Long Beach. Driving is a subjective term when using the 405 to get anywhere during rush hour. Sitting and exercising my clutch leg is a better description.
I was in a foul mood when I got home at 6:30. My lovely wife then asked if I wanted to go see a movie that started in 15 minutes and took 25 to get to the theater. Despite (perhaps because of) a final in two days, I readily agreed, hoping that it would shake the funk I was in.
500 Days of Summer is, as the narrator informs you very early, a story about a boy and a girl. It is not, however, a love story. The boy, Tom (played masterfully by Joseph Gordon Levitt) is drawn to the girl, (a normally distant and emotionally-guarded Zooey Deschanel) the new secretary in his greeting card writing office. The two are connected through music; first by one of the best songs in the world, The Smiths’ There is a Light That Never Goes Out, and later by each other’s choices at a local Karaoke bar. They later hook up and everything is great.
But, as Tom’s sage-like little sister tells him, just because a girl likes the same weird stuff that you do doesn’t make her your soul mate.
The greatness of the movie is in the telling. Rather than a linear storyline where we witness the arc of the relationship, the narrative is told by jumping back and forth between the good times early on and the obvious distance that occurs later, on the downward slope. These scenes are often placed back to back for maximum contrast with the days’ numbers telling us where we are.
Using such a method allows the viewer to see the truth in most relationships reflected in that of Tom and Summer. Unlike many Hollywood tales, nothing dramatic occurs between the two. Instead, the actual occurrence of drifting that so many of us have experienced takes place. What happens to drive apart these two, seemingly happy and loving people isn’t a drunken one night stand or a fight about who’s family to visit during Christmas. What happens is life. Circumstances and feelings change. Suddenly, one person realizes what has been bubbling under the surface without their knowledge. The other person’s quirks become annoying habits. Their once funny jokes become labors of tolerance. All the little stuff that fell to the background behind that shiny infatuation comes into focus and the cosmic contrast knob is turned all the way up.
It just isn’t working and you have to decide whether to continue with that in the back of your head or to call it quits and deal with the emotions of the other person. It is heart wrenching to see Tom as he is informed of Summer’s intent to end their relationship. Like so many of us, you can see he knows that things are not going well, but he refuses to admit it to himself. It is also easy to identify with his feelings as he wants to soldier on, to work to make it better and to hold on to the one he loves that just, through no fault of his own, does not love him back.
While those paragraphs may make this seem like a real downer of a movie, I found it both charming and playful. The actors were all well-cast and played their parts to full believability. It likely helped that the story is one which nearly anyone can identify with.
The only part of the story that I don’t buy was the setting. The film did not have an LA feel to it. The gloomy skies, the torrents of rain, and the fact that you never saw any of the characters driving (they seemingly walked everywhere; WTF?!) gave it a very East Coast feel. Even the architectural focus of the film was more suited to the other side of the continent. The heavy Roman and Greek accents, the wide use of stone and the pivotal point involving the ONLY Art Nevua building in LA made the film’s references to the City of Angels feel out of place.
Small quibbles aside, I really enjoyed this movie. It reinforced just how great the relationship is that I have with my wife and how we are both still funny and loving to each other. Despite the black cloud over my head when I got home, she made it go away and this film helped me recognize that value more than I might have otherwise. I’m coming up on 3295 Days of Katherine and feel great about it!