Originally Published on FilmCatcher.com
I got a text message at 5:40 last night offering an extra ticket for the premiere of Mark Webb’s 500 Days of Summer if I could make it to the Eccles Theater by 6p. The text was from a beautiful girl we will call Rebecca (because that’s her name) who once upon a time was the love of my life. Throughout the years Becca and I have had flare-ups and cool-downs until our relationship eventually settled into a deep friendship, the kind of friendship where we are actually able to talk about new love interests; the kind of friendship that has been tested time and time again and still manages to survive; the kind of friendship for which it is worth hustling your ass across Park City in 20 minutes when a free ticket is offered.
I had originally been a little wary of this film, which by all appearances could just have been another in a long line of quirky Sundance romance movies. But it had two things going for it right up top: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoe Deschanel. For my money, these are the two most interesting, talented and appealing actors in their entire age bracket. Each one brings a gravitas and watchability to the screen that would make any movie worth my humble while (except The Happening; not even Zoe could have saved that).
The film started off a little heavy-handed, with a lot of stylized vignettes and voiceover introducing us to the two stars of this love story. The whole thing began to make me feel a little tired until the Narrator insisted that “This is not a love story.” That statement ends up being arguable, and really depends on your definition of that four-letter word that gives us all so much trouble. But the assurance at least proved that the film’s goal wasn’t to be just another silly, fanciful love story to placate the lonely masses. This might actually have something to do with reality.
500’s gimmick (and I use the word in its best sense) is that the film jumps between Days 1 and 500 of the relationship between Summer (Deschanel) and Tom (Gordon-Levitt), giving a spectrum of the highs and lows of a relationship that refuses to follow the arc we have come to expect from on-screen romance. While not exactly reinventing the wheel of the out-of-sequence story, the construct works well in presenting a relationship as a whole. The care with which the timeline was constructed was also seamless, minimizing how much the flashing backwards and forwards distracted from the story (in the Q&A, Zoe told about meeting with the director and having him unfurl a beautifully drawn-up timeline for her, which ended up being the tipping point for her accepting the role).
Somewhere in the middle of the film, I started feeling a little self-conscious about watching this particular movie with a girl I had so seriously dated. If this was a film about a wonderful relationship that for whatever reason didn’t come to fruition, how would it be watching it with a person who had gone through such a similar journey with me? It then occurred to me that it might be way better than watching it with someone who hadn’t been on that path with you before. I settled into my seat and shared the armrest with my former love.
While the movie flirts dangerously with cliché and a little cheese, the saving grace is the idea that a great love affair does not always end with “happily ever after.” It usually just ends with “after.” If you’re lucky though, a great love affair can end (at least for now) with an unexpected text invitation on a snowy Saturday night in Park City. And if that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.