(500) Days of Summer is a solid Indy (using the term to mean what it’s come to mean) answer to the many romantic comedies that litter the landscape. As the Romantic Comedy genre has grown ever more burdened with lame gimmicks and formula, their “Indy” equivalents seem to retain at least a dash of novelty and sincerity, although it could easily be argued that this particular film falls into the category that the Onion AV Club dubs “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” films, where a beautiful, odd, capricious pixie girl enters the staid, workaday hero’s life and changes it forever. The hero tries desperately to break through to the dream girl, persevering through the down sides of her mania and finding the damaged girl underneath. Typically the formula (which goes back a long, long way-one could easily argue that films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s feature the archetype, and probably even earlier examples exist) ends either with the leads finally settling down, the MPDG revealing her terminal illness (no really, this is a standard formula) or the MDPG leaving the hero, perhaps changed for the better. (500) Days of Summer goes the final route, though it at least includes some variations on the sub-sub-genre.
Narrator Richard McGonagle (Green Lantern: First Flight) tells the story of Tom Hansen’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Halloween H20) life altering encounter with MPDG Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, All the Real Girls). The film starts in media res, and, for a bit of flavor, covers not only the pair’s romance, but their breakup, right up until Hansen gets closure and moves on. While the film mostly focuses on the relationship, there is also a bit of workplace comedy-Tom works at a greeting card company, and there are some bits revolving around his work performance decline and eventual meltdown.
First the good: the film does, indeed, make good use of it’s non-linear structure, with some scenes set later in the time line paying off when we find out why they happen that way. The occasional whimsical touches are fun as well, including a quick appearance by a childhood idol of every real blooded American boy of a certain era. The soundtrack is quite good.. The leads give decent performances, though Deschanel’s performance and character is hardly a stretch from her usual roles. While it’s a bit over-the-top, showing not only the relationship but Tom’s gradual recovery from it sets the film apart a bit, and a lot of the events felt emotionally true. All this being said, Tom, if we read between the lines a bit, is just as damaged as Summer, trying desperately to make this imperfect relationship into the end-all-be-all of his life (although again, this feels true and close to home). On the downside the film can feel a bit preciously “Indy” at times, and Tom’s friends and little sister are a bit weak, and one wonders a bit about Summer’s friends (or lack there of).
While (500) Days of Summer doesn’t quite live up to the hype, it’s a solid entry into the MPDG sub-sub-genre, not too cynical, with a beating heart and style to spare, like the MPDG of the title.