Movie Review: 500 Days of Summer

Two nights in a row I have successfully made it to the theater without having heard a word about either film I was about to see.  In keeping with this “unpoisoned well” mentality I will refrain from commenting.  …until after the link below.

SPOILER ALERT!! For realz, if you haven’t seen the movie then you shouldn’t read this one yet.

From the very first moment of the film I found myself saying “Wow!”  It was a five second animation that was not only very well crafted, but also set the stage as an elegant recurring theme –perhaps even with a bit of foreshadowing.  It had texture and character and an articulate way of getting the point across.  Like a well-designed logo, it was simultaneously simple and subtle.

The next thing that jumped out at me proved to be one of the greatest strengths of the film.  Unlike most movies, this one gave the audience a simple tool for understanding how all the pieces fit together.  Namely, they gave us a clear 500-day timeline.  At any point in the film the audience was given a solid understanding of context. They didn’t tell us everything up front, but rather they gave us glimpses of what lies ahead and what happened in the past.

Personally I think that was a revolutionary decision.  One of the inherent differences between a book and a movie is the sense of time.  In a book the author can pause time, fill in as much back story as needed, and then pick up right where it was paused and the reader never misses a beat.  In film, however, we have this built-in understanding that time is still moving forward because we are seeing events unfold in front of us.  500 Days of Summer tackles this problem brilliantly!  They used a visual tool –the timeline– to give the editor liberty to juxtapose virtually any two scenes and have them make sense.

Rather than using cliche flashbacks, dream sequences, or text overlays like “Three months earlier,”  which can get redundant if not confusing, the use of the timeline allowed the filmmakers to focus on enriching the story without having to worry about whether or not the audience will be able to follow along.  Additionally, it opened up new opportunities to add extra touches for humor and subtlety.  It’s a fantastic juxtaposition of imagery!

I’m not really sure how to phrase this, but it felt like the film had its own personality.  Some people are blessed with a tremendous ability to tell stories; they know how to captivate their audience by giving them just the right details at the right time –not just a chronological rundown of events.  This movie feels the same way.  It’s a masterpiece of storyshowing!

The director and editor seem to have a very keen grasp of film as a visual medium.  Though the movie is full of dialog, the actors never had to explain anything because we got to see everything firsthand.

The audience never sees Summer’s husband, and I think that was a very wise decision.  We don’t really need to know anything about this guy –all we know is that he’s not Tom and therefore we don’t like him, so we don’t need to waste time developing his character.

The split-screen effect of Expectations Vs. Reality was pure genius! They brilliantly wove together the elements of Anticipation, Action, and Reaction. Most filmmakers would have done a canned dream sequence, but Marc Webb (director) creatively raised the bar here. The voice over and the Expectations built the anticipation perfectly.  The Reality showed the action, and then we were all taken by surprise with the reaction (ie. engagement).  You could demonstrate it like this:

  1. Anticipation = voice over + Expectations
  2. Action = Reality
  3. Reaction = “Whoa! I did not see that one coming…”

The fact that the film chose to focus on the dude rather than the girl, to me, gave it a lot more credibility.  Us guys can relate to it because it’s a chick flick about a dude who’s not perfect. Heck, he’s not even Mr. Right.  Like it or not Summer was “the one that got away,” yet the story never loses sight of Hope.  It keeps looking forward.

In the final scene when Tom meets a new girl I found myself doubting the potential.  After all, we spent a year and a half falling in love with Summer, and then this new girl arrives on the scene and is supposed to change all that?  Fat chance!  I had come to the conclusion that he would never find another girl like Summer, and just when I was ready to hang my hat Autumn comes and changes everything…

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: 500 Days of Summer

  1. Saw it last night. Absolutely terrific. It just SO many things well.

    I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fantastic, as always.

    I went in with really high expectations, as the guys on the /Filmcast had gushed about it so much and thus was worried it’d disappoint, but it definitely didn’t. So, so good.

  2. The split scene and shifting times through the movie were great. Loving those scenes however, I have to point out the split scenes, as well as one of the songs, “Quelqu’un M’a Dit”, were also used in another good movie, “Conversations with Other Women”. While the split scene usage in “(500)Days…” was a more evolved usage, it is still a direct homage.

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