written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The RomCom formula is a simple one; you take a pair of lovers from possibly opposite walks of life, throw in a conflict and end it on an uplifting Sara Bareilles track. Not exactly Oscar Award winning stuff, but it does satisfy a wide range of film goers. Romantic Comedies are a dime a dozen, they generally are like Summer blockbusters for Valentine’s Day. But the point of this piece isn’t to list off some of my favorite in the genre, but rather to talk about my favorite Anti-RomCom. Enter (500) Days of Summer, a film by Marc Webb starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel; the story centers on a boy, Tom Hanson, who falls in love with a girl, Summer Finn, and the 500 days that would inexplicably change their lives.
Tom Hanson is a college trained architect who works as a writer for a greeting card company, when Summer Finn joins the company as the boss’ new assistant, Tom is immediately smitten with her. Now here is where they differ, Tom is a hopeless romantic… key word on the “hopeless”… while Summer Finn loses faith in the whole love thing following her parent’s divorce. The two somehow connect and despite Summer explicitly stating that she doesn’t want a relationship or a boyfriend, Tom lets himself get carried away and falls head over heels for Summer.
As the film opens, it’s explicitly stated while this is a story about about boy meets girl… this is not a love story. It’s hard to really peg this film, we as the viewer knew from the very start that this “boy meets girl” story won’t end with a happily ever after, at least for the couple. So, with knowing where the road leads, why did I continue to watch it? Aside from already paying for the ticket and sitting in the theater with my then girlfriend, it’s the road to the end that kept me interested.
Presented in a non-linear format, the film jumped around various points in the 500 days Summer was a major part of Tom’s life. From initial flirting, to the pseudo “no labels” relationship they stumble into, all the way to the ending where Tom is finally forced to give up on his one-sided love affair with Summer Finn. The journey was the most interesting part of it, and the non linear storytelling does well for it. One such scene that comes to mind is a day near the end of their pseudo relationship where Tom tries to get Summer’s attention while shopping in Ikea, he jokes about how all their sinks are broken, an uninterested Summer walks away leaving Tom confused… jump to a moment in their love affair much earlier, the two “play house” in Ikea, ultimately leading to Tom and Summer’s first night together.
The juxtaposition of the way the two approach this “relationship” is one of the reasons I love watching this journey. For Summer, it burns bright with intense passion… Tom reciprocates in kind. But like a firework, the brightest burn out the fastest. For Tom, his approach was like a campfire, even after it burns bright the embers continue to give off heat… that is until the embers are suddenly put out.
While Summer plays a major supporting role, this is Tom’s story. Much of the film follows how Tom copes with meeting, loving, and ultimately losing Summer. My favorite scene from the film follows the aforementioned first night together. Tom struts on his way to work in a euphoric and complex dance number to Hall and Oates “You Make My Dreams Come True” as random passerbys congratulate him and join in like a well organized flash-mob. This one scene summed up exactly what it feels like, intoxicated on the events of the night before, still high from the euphoria. When you pine after someone, and all those feelings are deliciously reciprocated, it feels like a fantasy through rose colored glasses.
Tom as the optimistic hopeless romantic and Summer as the cynic who doesn’t believe in love. These two wouldn’t work in any way, shape, or form. But seeing them together is cute, if both of them were in the same place… maybe if Summer was more open to falling in love and Tom was a bit more realistic, it would have panned out in the end… but if that was the case it wouldn’t be one of my favorite films.
The supporting cast was stellar, featuring an excellent cast of characters played by some amazing actors. The ever wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz is stellar as Tom’s younger but wise beyond her years sister, his two best friends Paul and McKenzie are played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler respectively, and Tom’s boss Vance is played by Clark “Agent Coulson” Gregg. It’s an amazing cast and one that compliments the principle pair well.
Another of my favorite scenes happen near the end of the film, after reconnecting with Summer at the wedding of one of their office mates, Tom is invited to a dinner party at Summer’s apartment. This scene is then split between Tom’s expectations on one side and the reality on the other. Much like how grandiose expectations do well to let a person down, this one scene lives up to that. In his fantasy, he’s greeted with a kiss and spends the entire party talking only to Summer, with the pair eventually reconciling their love in the kitchen. This is how the film would have ended if it was supposed to be a love story… but the reality of the situation was a bit more heartbreaking. Tom’s sarcastic nature falls flat with Summer, and while he spends much of the party mingling with various guests, he eventually catches a glimpse of Summer showing off an engagement ring to a friend… Summer Finn, the girl who never wanted to be anyone’s girlfriend was going to be someone’s wife.
Though Tom falls into a deep depression, he does get past it. After finally leaving the greeting card company, he jumps back in to becoming an architect; finally becoming the man he should have been years before. When he runs into Summer again before a big job interview, he talks about how all his fantasies of love were utter bullshit and that she was right all along. Before they part, Summer says that Tom had the right idea; it’s just that it took someone else to prove all the things she was never sure of when she was with Tom.
It’s a story of self exploration, and growing up. A coming of age story for characters who have already come of age. I stand by the narrator’s opening statement when talking about this film. While you can argue that this is a story ABOUT love, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, and that’s exactly why it sits high on my list of favorite films.