(500) Days of Summer. 2009. DVD from Netflix
The Plot: The relationship of Tom and Summer, two twentysomethings. He believes in love at first sight and finding your one true love; she, in being friends and that there is no such thing as love.
The Good: Tom's and Summer's relationship is modern (he the romantic, she the cynic); their story has highs and lows, sweet romance and deep hurts. It is primarily Tom's story, his friends, his family, his dreams. Summer is the girl he falls for, more complex than he understands. When he is happy, his world is a music video; sad, and its raining outside and all is dull and gray. (500) Days of Summer is a beautifully written and acted look at the life cycle of a relationship.
While the story of Tom and Summer alone would make an interesting film, what ups the greatness of this is it is told out of order. First meeting, post-breakup, flirtation, first kiss, a series of disjointed days that seem at first glance to be confusing. It works: the different scenes show a building story arc, the contradictory behaviour of people, and, somehow, despite the nonlinear story telling, character development. I've watched it a few times now, and each time have enjoyed it more and more.
There is a little bit of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Summer, in that at first we are told that everyone loves her. She works in an ice cream store, sales go up; she rents an apartment, she gets a break in rent. And, of course, she's cute, listens to interesting music, wears great clothes. Ultimately, Summer is not such a girl. She may be Tom's dream girl, yes, in the sense that Tom falls in love with her at first sight and becomes a bit obsessed with her. Summer is honest from the start of their relationship that she doesn't want a relationship, isn't looking for love, and wants to be "just friends." Tom's own passions, own desires, cloud his thinking and he ignores her. His ignoring who she is (and isn't) doesn't turn her into a MPDG. All Summer teaches Tom is what any relationship teaches a person: people are people and cannot be made into what they are not. Along the way, Tom takes ownership of his life instead of drifting and waiting for "the one". Reading this article by the screenwriter makes me think that Summer was originally written as a MPDG (reading that article creates intense dislike in the pity party the screenwriter throws himself), and was saved by a good director, editing, and great actors.
Final point: I just adore Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his work. Between this and Brick, I think I'd watch him read the phone book and he would make it smart and sexy.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy