(500) Days of Summer begins with a narrator who tells us a bit about the main characters, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). It's a bit glib and silly, but illuminating enough. It also features the line, also included in the trailer, that the movie "is not a love story." This sets up all kinds of interesting expectations, and turns out to be true and false. But ultimately, it sets up more interesting expectations than the film delivers.
Don't get me wrong, the movie is entertaining and makes good points about relationships, features excellent performances from the leads, great music and a good overall message. But it also includes a lot of unnecessary frippery and folderol which finally distracts it from being a great film, and makes it only solidly pretty good.
Tom Hansen is a young guy working at an L.A. greeting-card company, having abandoned or put on hold dreams of being an architect. He's a romantic, as we are told and shown, and when he sets eyes on Summer, his boss's new assistant, he begins to suspect she may be "The One," not in the Matrix sense, but his true soulmate in the world.
The movie is told out of order, with titles flipping by at such breakneck speed telling you what day it is that it is annoying enough to try to consciously ignore to try to focus on the story. Telling stories out of order is no new trick, and there's nothing particularly useful about knowing which of the 500 days you're looking at, because you get the general idea about where they are in their relationship organically from the story. So that's both a storytelling compliment and a frippery complaint at once.
The romance proceeds in fits and starts, with break-ups, arguments, inappropriate displays of aggression and obsession from Tom, and near-total insouciance from Summer, guaranteed, of course, to only reel Tom in further. They have some great, wonderfully close and romantic times as well. This is sort of where the narrator's opening comment messes with the audience's expectations, and it kind of works.
Tom's little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) is an interesting character when she first shows up, but quickly becomes one-note and has nothing much to do. This is about the pattern for all of the secondary characters, they're more like tertiary characters, but this mostly serves the story.
There are some truly great moments. Their meeting over a common interest in The Smiths in an elevator is well done. Tom's dance number is really good, and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel have real chemistry on display in a lot of really charming scenes. But for every peak there's a valley, scenes that just don't work, like Tom's quitting his job with a depressed, nonsensical soliloquy, or documentary-type scenes of people talking with no point.
The ending leaves a lot to be desired, despite being nearly perfect. It delivers its message well, but insists on doing so heavy-handedly, or even with a hammer, which kind of ruins it at the last second. It's like you're smiling, then somebody tells a bad joke.
In all, (500) Days is well worth seeing for the performances of the main actors and the truthfulness of the romance, but it stubs its own toe a few times. It is and isn't a love story. It is a good movie, but not a great one.
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