500 Days of Summer: Genius or Gimmick?

“This is a story about boy meets girl but you must know upfront it is not a love story…” – Narrator, 500 Days of Summer

The film, 500 Days of Summer, was released in 2009, now seven years ago, and yet still intrigues film buffs, rom-com fans and intriguingly, a few experts on love…

What the film did, as shown by the line quoted above, was challenge what a rom-com is and can be about. The happy ending was not guaranteed -a trap many films of this genre fall into- and one which can make rom-coms feel a little predictable and tired. Equally important in creating the film’s unique feel was its casting: instead of two actors that had been born and bred in this genre, (think Julia Roberts, Richard Gere and Hugh Grant,) Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel gave the film its spark, they were young, fresh faced and new to the genre.

500 (2).jpgAlso in its mission to challenge the rom-com genre, fans have noted that the typical gender stereotypes of the female being on the quest for love (see Bridget Jones) and the male characters seen as sweeping in to save her (see Bridget Jones again, Pretty Woman, Man Up, PS I Love You, etc.), were abandoned, instead the film put the male in the position of vulnerability, as the one actively looking for love.

It’s a considered insight into how relationships can offer dizzying highs and painful lows in tandem.

And here lies perhaps the most hotly debated aspect of the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom and how the film artistically captures the feelings and thoughts of this young man in love and later, in heartbreak. This was attempted previously in Four Weddings and a Funeral, which starred the crown prince of the rom-com genre, Hugh Grant. In 500 Days of Summer though Tom’s internal struggle is portrayed uniquely and will live long in the memory.

By jumping across time, taking snapshots from a 500 day saga, we see a non-linear progression from meeting to blossoming romance to incident to the inevitable (but un-usual,) make up finale. The non-chronological style suits the message and it’s a considered insight into how relationships can offer dizzying highs and painful lows in tandem. Remember, as we’re told early on- “it is not a love story”.

500 Days Of Summer

This formula is now to rom-com films what Einstein’s theory of relativity is to physics. It really is the basis of the genre. By opening the story up, not with flashbacks but with carefully selected memories that deconstruct the relationship bit by bit, the film feels relatable to many, and offers a reflection of how people think about their own relationships past and present.

However this divides viewers as some find the time jumps abrasive, disrupting the flow of the narrative and ultimately a distraction from what some consider an already convoluted story. Although the time jumps may seem disruptive they are ultimately a reflection of how up and down a relationship is, or can be, and this is something experts praise the film for. The film is lauded as well for its use of music, the soundtrack is a gem, and alternative scenes, such as the famous post-sex strut to Hall and Oates’ ‘You make my dreams’ offer the film an amusing self-awareness.

It not just this panache, the actor or the approach that makes this film genius. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that was becoming predictable. Despite the criticisms it faces it cannot be faulted for its bravery to offer something different. After all, a film that can change the course of a whole genre is undoubtedly something rare and special. Arguably this was a once in a decade film and by our maths that means another film of this calibre is wanted and needed. Where will the next genre defining, big screen romance come from?

By Arran Byers

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