Staff Pick

(500) Days of Summer Isn't the Rom-Com You Think It Is

By Marissa Blanchard


Before Zooey Deschanel’s ascent to prime time in New Girl and making “adorkable” mainstream, she starred as the title character and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s love interest in (500) Days of Summer. But unlike quirky, optimistic Jess in New Girl, Deschanel’s Summer is more stormy skeptic than ray of sunshine.

The dashing but dorky Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, who strongly believes in destiny and is looking to meet “the one.” But when he does, the feeling isn’t mutual: “There’s no such thing as love, it’s fantasy.” Tom, a greeting card writer, meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) when she starts working there as an assistant. A hopeless romantic, Tom falls for her after a brief elevator conversation about The Smiths.

Just before the opening credits roll, a seemingly mocking narrator states, “This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know upfront — this is not a love story.” This somewhat bleak prologue, followed by Regina Spektor’s griping vocals over the opening credits, aims to make clear this isn’t a formulaic romantic comedy.

The heart of this story is that relationships look different at the beginning, at their height and after they have ended. Through Tom’s eyes, the audience feels his 500-day emotional whiplash of looking back and looking for all the possible missteps of his relationship — from over-analyzing trips to Ikea to reliving the last time they shared pancakes at a diner, he can never seem to pinpoint what exactly went wrong.

This film takes chances visually that few romantic comedies do. After he sleeps with Summer for the first time, Tom breaks into a cheery dance number to the Hall & Oates classic “You Make My Dreams,” and it works at representing how he feels to “get the girl.” Another scene shows Tom’s side by side vision of expectation versus reality when he attends Summer’s party after they break up — demonstrating that lingering hope of repairing a broken relationship.

As the ending credits role, we understand the intent of the opening titles; it’s not about how boy meets girl, but rather, how people can profoundly impact you in unexpected ways. The dots of this non-linear story come full circle in a tongue-in-cheek ending that still fuels debates among viewers nearly a decade later.