Does it get more indie than a romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that's packed with Smiths references galore and moves to the music of Regina Spektor? In short, the answer is no, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. 500 Days of Summer does very well being exactly what it's meant to be: a bittersweet, off-beat take on hipster love. Now, you might roll your eyes or scoff because hating on hip youth is really in right now, but this film isn't like the others; it's actually quite smart and charming.
500 Days of Summer tells the story of greeting card writer Tom Hansen who believes in soul mates and thinks he's found one in the form of his boss's irresistable new secretary, Summer Finn. Trouble is Summer doesn't believe in love. What ensues is a reversal of common silver screen gender roles: he becomes the overzealous lover who wants to know what their relationship status is, while she's busy being the heartless narcissist.
While calling it off with Tom over pancakes, Summer explains her reasoning: "We've been kind of Sid and Nancy lately." Tom protests, "Yes, we have arguments, but I hardly think I'm Sid Vicious," to which Summer twists the knife: "No, I'm Sid." Not only is she breaking his heart, but she is emasculating him in the process. Tom exhibits other typically feminine responses throughout the movie -- endlessly wallowing over his unrequited love, smashing plates, idealizing an imperfect lover in a cartoonish way, etc. If you ask me, men in the movies could use more of this treatment. Machismo is just so boring.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the role of the heartbroken wannabe boyfriend so well that it's hard not to spend the entire movie falling for him. It doesn't hurt that he's so dreamy either. (A fellow movie-goer came out of the theater gushing, "He looks just like Heath Ledger, but hotter!") I'll have to agree with her on that, even though it's an unfair comparison considering the other dude is dead. Zooey Deschannel doesn't disappoint either as she brings intelligence to Summer's bitchiness and provides a subtle layer of depth underneath the character's hypocrisy. She's not too bad on the eyes either, as many drooling indie fanboys will affirm.
But the real looker in 500 Days of Summer is the setting. At first glance, it appears as though we're in store for another stroll through New York, but the downtown landscape turns out to be Los Angeles. The camera wipes away the smog and the sea of fame whores to reveal an LA not often seen, one that's beautiful, one where interesting people who don't want to be famous singers/actors live, love, and break up. As Liz Lemon would say, I want to go to there.
500 Days of Summer kind of reminds me of a fluffier Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Annie Hall. The movie doesn't intend to be serious or dramatic, as evidenced by a ridiculously goofy dance sequence with an animated bluebird. But what it does share in common with those seminal classics is that it remains honest about the fact that love can fail. Desire gets the best of people, lovers get burned, and sometimes the gaudily wrapped happy ending never comes to pass. The script swaps the mythology of princes on white horses rescuing maidens and riding off in slow-motion for something a bit more genuine.
While the film strays from convention in some spots, it reinforces a certain stereotype of the "subversive urban hipster" in others. Naturally Tom listens to the Smiths on large headphones in elevators, and of course he owns tee-shirts with Joy Division and The Clash album covers on them. It all seems too predictable and one-dimensional at times, but, for some reason, it doesn't matter. Neither does the cheesy ending (which I won't give away here) or a certain inconsistency in Summer's behavior. These minor grievances ultimately take a backseat to what 500 Days of Summer accomplishes: making the viewer feel something, which is what any good movie hopes to do.