Marc Webb’s feature directorial debut, 500 Days of Summer, quickly became an indie fan favorite. Perhaps it was the casting of indie darlings Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel or perhaps it was the supposed angst of our lead male that attracted so many hipsters. Regardless, the film revolves around the relationship and subsequent breakup of Tom (Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Deschanel) told from the viewpoint of a lovesick and heartbroken Tom.
One of the important things to note is that this is Webb’s feature directorial debut, but far from his debut. See, Webb has been making a pretty comfortable living directing music videos. While 500 Days of Summer does have its charm with its quippy dialogue and its breathtaking visuals, Webb seems most at home when he’s dousing his scenes with music. It’s comfortable to watch as Tom dances around to Hall & Oates in a madcap musical number. Other times, when Tom’s depression seems to take hold, Webb seems to have just the right music for it. However, there is also a third category, when Webb uses music as a way of storytelling. While the soundtrack is an enjoyable one, even on par with Garden State’s soundtrack, this method of using music to cover up places where dialogue should be comes across as lazy sometimes. Pair that with the use of an omniscient narrator and what you’ve got is a beautifully shot, intensely visual student film. While this movie is a strong feature debut, it shows that Webb may not be able to leave his music video roots for a more cinematic form of storytelling, utilizing his actors more than his soundtrack. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his sophomore attempt.
However, the blame for the shortcomings of this movie doesn’t entirely fall on Webb’s shoulder. As much as it pains me to say, Zooey Deschanel was not the choice actress for the role of Summer. While Deschanel is beautiful and talented, throughout the movie she seems disaffected by what’s going on around her. We see a heartbroken Tom in the beginning, who is distraught that this woman doesn’t love him anymore. The problem is, we’re never really shown what there is to love about Summer. She’s not cold or unfeeling, but she doesn’t have the kind of charisma that’s necessary for us to invest in her. Once again, this could be anyone’s game, perhaps the character wasn’t written with a lot of depth to begin with, but somewhere along the way, the character of Summer just becomes so removed that it’s difficult to imagine someone loving her.
Finally, I enjoyed a great deal of this movie and its interpretation of the antithesis of the romantic comedy. It seemed empowering to people who had been dumped before or felt the kind of abandonment that Tom does. Then, at the last minute, there’s a cheesy glimmer of hope for Tom when he meets a young girl named Autumn. I’m not sure if everyone watched the same movie that I did, but ending it on a note like that, while nice and certainly idealistic, seems to undo the power of the movie. Here we are watching an entire movie where people are defined by their horrible relationships and Tom finally establishes himself as his own man, but then, of course, he can’t really be a man unless he’s “completed” by a partner. It seemed so uncharacteristic of the message that the movie seemed to be giving and, for me personally, it completely took me out of the movie.
While it might be easy to get the impression that I hated 500 Days of Summer, you’d actually be wrong. I think it’s an enjoyable film and shows potential for a first-time feature director. However, the movie is certainly not without its faults. While the soundtrack is enchanting, Webb needs to experiment a little more to make it work more with the movie than as two stand alone pieces. Also, the character of Summer definitely need some work to make us fall in love with her just as Tom does. Finally, although I’m sure most people wouldn’t change a thing, the ending is not only a cop-out, but it’s so artificial. All in all, 500 Days of Summer has some really strong points, but needs to be more grounded in the world that Webb is trying to convey, hopefully something Webb will take into account in his sophomore effort.