Considering the massive resurgence in popularity 500 Days of Summer has seen over the past few years, combined with this film routinely taking the top spot on many “best of” romantic comedies lists, I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen it. The term “sleeper hit” doesn’t even begin to describe its success, and it is undeniably a cult classic.
All of that is to say that if you haven’t found yourself watching this, willing or otherwise, with a lovesick friend, you will in time. Just make sure it’s someone you’re comfortable crying and laughing with. And that’s fine, because 500 Days of Summer is stupid good. When my wife introduced it to me, I was blown away. I’m talking about La La Land levels of emotional vehemence, chemistry between the lead actors as spark-filled as American Hustle, and snappy dialogue that gives pause even to films like The Princess Bride.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel absolutely knock the roles out of the park. Gordon-Levitt in particular conveys the nuances of a guy slightly too sensitive to his emotions to be completely reliable, yet not anywhere close to coming across as unstable. It’s a very similar acting style to Dylan Minnette in 13 Reasons Why, I noticed, which seems to have borrowed some inspiration from this film. Deschanel, then, portrays an amazing balance of being someone easy fall in love with, yet always slightly protecting herself from her feelings. It’s a fascinating dichotomy where he is just a bit too sensitive, and she isn’t quite sensitive enough.
I’m about to spoil this movie. You’ve been warned.
This is absolutely not a romantic comedy. I mean, it definitely is in format, but it’s more like a romantic tragedy, or perhaps simply a drama. This movie is depressing, and I don’t use that word lightly. Sure, it’s got plenty of joking and fun throughout – from their whimsically odd job of designing greeting cards to them shouting obscenities from their favorite park bench – but that’s just to establish the true-to-life senselessness of how the film ends. Each happy moment is dangled in front of the audience’s faces. The positives are being stored up as ammunition, the goal to pierce the heart of even the most jaded viewer. The existential dread of The Smiths’ somber songs accentuate each moment, sounding a countdown to doomsday. It is a cruel thing to do to your audience.
The film’s theme wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s yearning, the strongest intensity of longing for something in your life. In Tom’s case, though, the recoil of that desire – never being allowed to “let me get what I want” – throws him into depression not once but twice. I do like how this film handles the concept of depression, as it paints Tom as having a slightly obsessive personality prone to such an emotional state.
If the movie didn’t end with the hope of Autumn, I would call this one of the most depressing films ever made. Even still, I don’t trust 500 Days of Summer, not for a second. It’s message at the end indicates that, if you find the right person, it will be obvious and you’ll just know. But we all know how unreliable that is, and like with the seasons, Autumn may pass as well.
I take neither Tom nor Summer’s side in this film. Summer was absolutely not obligated to be with Tom, and society has a bad habit of making the woman feel bad in situations like this. Still, I can’t help but feel for Tom, because I’ve stood in his shoes and walked the road he walked. I think many of us have, honestly. Unrequited love is one of the most prevalent themes in literature of all-time, from the works of Ovid where he would stand outside a lover’s door and sing bad songs, to the streamlined “will-they won’t-they” format of the modern romantic comedy. There’s even a whole genre of tunes on the topic: country music.
And yet, if its not shared, often that is just the end of it. Love is a scarce economy. You can’t make someone love you, as that just does more long-term damage. It’s obvious whoever Summer ended up marrying made her more happy than Tom.
However, in real life, things often turn out better than they appear. Sometimes the other person just needs time to adjust and figure out their own emotional state. Indeed, Nikki and I went through a similar situation early in our relationship. As she will tell you, I was head-over-heals in love with her when we first met. As a sixteen-year-old, I hadn’t quite learned the lesson yet that patience was key, and so I pushed things. In fact, after convincing myself that there was no way she could love me, we both pursued other relationships. We got our happy ending, though, because we came out the other side of those damaging relationships more mature and patient people better able to realize the potential of our love.
If you have a Summer in your life, there is hope. Sure, you may be destined for an Autumn or a Winter or a Spring or beyond. But it’s also possible you just haven’t met the right version of Summer yet. You may very well be building your own special and unique love story. And hey, if not, you can still write a song about heartbreak to add to the millions that have come before.
Do you have a Summer in your life? What’s your tale of unrequited love, or someone you yearned for with all of your heart? And if you’ve seen this movie, do you think it’s nearly as sad as I’ve made it out to be? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to tell me your favorite romantic comedy.
On Friday we’ll be finishing Rom-Com Week by looking at one of my favorite movies of all time: Away We Go. I’m so excited!