22 July 2009

The Great Expectations of Summer



There are spoilers. You’ve been warned.




(500) Days of Summer is a tale of unrequited love. A very specific kind that plagues most 20-something relationships. In its very simple way of telling such a common story, (500) Days hits something true.

The story chronicles the failed relationship of Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) over the course of 500 days, skipping from the breakup to the first days of flirtation then to the aftermath, back to the middle again, and so on. I’d imagine that most people analyze their own relationships like this - remembering scenes differently with each take, alternating obsessively between the highs and the lows and hoping to arrive at some sort of truth or at least the ability to move on to a new thought. And thus the audience is taken on this tour of introspection with Tom to figure out what went wrong with Summer.


Tom’s character is developed to obsessive detail right at the outset. Sporting messy hair, skinny tie, un-tucked oxford, hoodie, skinny pants and flat sneakers, he is an aspiring architect who has been stuck writing copy for a greeting card company for four years. He’s a romantic who listens to The Smiths, reads Alain de Botton, and “completely misinterpreted The Graduate.”

Summer’s character is given less. We know that her parents were divorced, that she doesn’t believe in love and cared only (at least when she was 8) about her long, dark hair. She also wanted to move out of Michigan which brings her to a new job at a greeting card company in LA. The infrequent, deep-voiced narrator (channeling Pushing Daisies a bit) muses for a strange length of time on Summer’s beauty, her eyes, her hair, her face, her clothes and the “Summer effect” which basically means that most men tend to notice her and she knows this. For example, her yearbook Belle and Sebastian quote "color my life with the chaos of trouble" led to an "80% increase" in sales of The Boy with the Arab Strap in her hometown. 



Tom falls for her immediately (because we’re told that is what all men do). But Tom also very clearly wants a girlfriend. Summer’s new in town, Tom seems smitten and like any girl who is new in town and has a nice, intelligent guy pining after her, she goes with it, warning Tom that about aforementioned prejudices against love and that she “doesn’t want anything serious.” But Tom continues to fall. Because she quotes The Smith’s song that he happens to be listening to in the elevator "to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die,” because he misinterprets that line as meaningful and deeper than just the song that was on at the time, because of her beauty, because of her wit, because of her ability to talk about “Magritte AND Hockey,” and mainly because Tom believes that it’s right, that she’s perfect and that they will fall in love. He thinks that because they like the same things that they are destined to be together - a notoriously hipster thing to assume. 



Although Summer is nothing but forthcoming about her intentions, she also does what she wants. So after playing house in Ikea and kissing, Summer tells Tom that she doesn't want a relationship, and then, as they exit the store she takes his hand. Summer isn't evil, but beginning with the musings on her beauty, her thoughts on love and they way she toys with Tom, I thought not of Catherine in Jules et Jim, but of Estella in Great Expectations. And this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the story. Summer isn't given any depth for most of the movie, besides her selfishness and inability to fall in love. Only one scene gives her credit for being something other than cool, beautiful and aloof: her inconsolable crying at the end of The Graduate. But the narrator only speaks for Tom. We only see Tom's distress. Summer remains unreadable we hate her a little bit for continuing to hurt and perplex Tom.


Back to the plot. After Summer and Tom break up, they find themselves both at a co-workers wedding. They dance and flirt and smile and Summer invites him to a party at her house before falling asleep on his shoulder in the train. Which is when we arrive at THE SCENE OF THE MOVIE: a split shot of Tom going to Summer’s party. One screen is titled "Expectations" and one is titled "Reality." It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, simple and makes the movie worth seeing. I can’t even remember if there was any actual dialogue – the expressions and actions were good enough to carry the segment.



I came into this wanting to write something critical, wanting to comment more on the look of the film, the smirk inducing references to New Wave films, the use of downtown LA, and so on. But because of my 2 days of procrastination, the romantic comedy pitfalls (the unattainable wardrobe and lifestyle, the goofy best friends, the precocious little sister as therapist, the predictable transfer to the “Sympathy and Grief” department, Tom’s change to a suit at the end of the film), and all the other petty annoyances that I had with the script have somehow drifted to the back of my mind. What remains is my desire to talk to people about the film, about Summer's actions and Tom's ignorance and the sadness and the reality that sometimes one person falls and the other person doesn't.

5 comments:

Laurie Cannon said...

Why the heck does Summer cry at the end of The Graduate?

Chloe said...

I just ran into this blog because I was trying to figure out the title of the Smiths song Summer sang in the elevator. Anyway, your review was pretty spot on to how I felt. I was so disappointed when I left the theater, yet there were some great cinematic moments like the split screen of realities and expectations. I loved that. And also in the beginning when Tom is dancing with the city and there is an animated bird. That scene was uplifting yet really idealistic which was the point. But the film lacked flow...which again, might be the point? Also, I hated Tom's bff...the one with the long hair. His acting was baaad and we never saw him with his gf that he raved about. The other goofier best friend was a lot better and I hope he continues to get roles. I left the theater wanting to just talk about the film because I felt so discontent about it! If you ever wanna talk about it, I'd be up for it!

Rycon said...

I think you missed a very crucial detail...how awesome the chalkboard wall was in Tom's room...and how now I have one.

Marker said...

Chloe, in case you haven't found the title yet, it's "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out".

YouTube link here.

Anonymous said...

I think you mean Magritte and Hopper* not hockey haha..

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