Sept. 23, 2019
In traditional romantic-comedies/dramas, the feeling of love between the film’s two main characters tends to be reciprocal. It may take the full length of the movie for the characters to work out any differences or hurdles that may stand in their way, but in the end, love always wins.
However, that isn’t quite the case in Mark Webb’s 2009 directorial debut film, (500) Days of Summer. In fact, what we get is a story that challenges several conventional plot elements of the romantic genre, especially the classic tale of triumphant love.
Right off the bat, the film’s narrator (Richard McGonagle) declares that the movie is “not a love story.” The non-linear narrative chronicles the 500 days that Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt) spends loving — and losing — his co-worker turned love interest, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel).
The film introduces the two as a couple who break up after more than 300 days of “dating”, with the plot jumping between various moments in the 500-day timeline of their failed relationship.
An architect by trade, Tom offers his quirky writing talents to a greeting card company located in Los Angeles. When Summer is hired on board as the assistant to Tom’s boss, he immediately falls for her after learning about their shared tastes in music.
Despite their similar interests, it’s revealed throughout the course of the film that the two hold very different feelings towards one another. Finn describes herself as an independent woman who isn’t looking for anything serious and believes that love is a fantasy, while Tom is a hopeless romantic who is determined to win her over.
Unlike most romance films, (500) Days of Summer reminds the viewer that falling in love can be dangerous, especially when it’s with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you. It serves as a cautionary tale of being blinded by romance, which ultimately results in failing to pick-up on red flags.
Throughout the film, Summer is constantly sending off signals to Tom that she isn’t looking for a serious relationship. She even reveals that she sees them as “just friends”, despite their countless moments of intimacy. While the viewer realizes these ominous cues, Tom is lost in his own dreamworld and fantasy. It’s easy to feel bad for him, but it’s his stubbornness and negligence of Summer’s warnings that remind us that he’s the one digging in his own grave.
Tom is portrayed as a victim of false romance, while Summer is depicted as heartless and unfair. However, the film is biased in that it focusses more on Tom’s feelings and his side of the relationship, failing to explore Summer’s feelings and her perspective. It’s a story about a relationship that didn’t work out, but it’s only examined through the lens of one party.
Through it’s unconventional plot and storytelling, (500) Days of Summer is a film that re-defines the romantic genre. While calling attention to it’s own construction as a motion picture, it’s a realistic tale of being blinded by love and ultimately paying the price for it. It challenges the viewer to look beyond the fairy-tale framework, and to always think twice about falling in love.