Origin Stories: Marc Webb & (500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer 2009
This is part of a new series of reviews that I’m starting that takes a look at directors of well known superhero movies and takes a step back to either their big movie just before their superhero movie, or one of their first films. In this case, it’s both. 3 years before Marc Webb directed the Amazing Spider-Man films, he had a single feature length film to his credit: a romantic dramady starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I had seen this film many years ago and really enjoyed it. Rewatching it this time around definitely hit differently, but there are still a lot of great moments throughout this film and it holds up very well as a visual and interesting look at a short lived relationship from the guy’s point of view. Also, this post was decided on by a monthly poll from our patrons at our Patreon, so for only $1 a month, you can help choose a movie review that appears on this site.
What many people have to remember when watching or discussing this film is that it is one hundred percent told from the guy’s perspective. Even though Zooey Deschanel’s Summer is a character that has a distinct, three dimensional personality, it’s told from the perspective of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom. This is a guy who becomes infatuated with his attractive co-worker, obsesses over her when she shows the briefest amount of interest in him through their shared love of the Smiths, is completely infatuated with her during their short relationship, and spends almost as much time mourning the end of their relationship as they spent within their relationship. From his point of view, she is a flighty, manic pixie dream girl that claims she doesn’t want a relationship, yet leads him on anyway.
What works the best about this film is the non-linear structure that jumps back and forth between different points in the relationship. Early on we are shown the day they break up so there’s little surprise that this relationship isn’t going to make it through for the long haul. Although first time watchers could think that they reconnect somewhere between day 290 and day 500. With this non-linear point of view we get to see the lows of the end of the relationship mirrored with the highs of the beginning and how people sometimes try to rekindle a failing relationship by going back to things that worked once before. Here we see that through their trip to IKEA with Tom trying to make jokes about the fake fixtures while Summer isn’t amused before flashing back to the time when Summer was the one playing house in the display rooms while Tom playfully joined in.
Where this film fails for some people is how much of Summer’s point of view is purposefully ignored. Even when the two of them reconcile after Summer has gotten married, Tom still believes that the two of them shared true love and it was just that Summer didn’t try hard enough or didn’t believe in love. Through his eyes, it was entirely her fault that their relationship failed. But the truth of the matter was that there was never true love in their relationship at all. It was a fling that got out of hand. Tom became so infatuated with Summer that he refused to admit that their relationship had stagnated and Summer wasn’t happy but Tom never did anything out of line so she stayed with him out of obligation more than anything.
Aside from the non-linear storytelling, the film also has several moments of fantastical reality that help sell the feeling of the relationship from Tom’s point of view. Early on in the relationship, right after Summer tells Tom that she isn’t interested in having a boyfriend but still has sex with him, the next morning turns into a musical dance number out of Singin’ in the Rain. During the low point in their relationship, he goes to a foreign film festival and sees himself in parodies of Ingmar Bergman’s films. And in one of the best scenes in the film, when he gets the chance to reconnect with Summer after their breakup going to a mutual co-worker’s wedding there’s the split-screen “expectations” vs “reality” that shows how Tom wanted to see the evening going with the two of them flirting and rekindling old feelings versus the reality where she is politely friendly-yet standoffish until he notices her new engagement ring.
One surprising element of this film is how closely it straddles the line between PG-13 and R. There are many points in the movie where they squeeze in various swear words even in contexts that would often garner other films an R rating. But if IMDb trivia is to be believed, they did change the word “blowjob” to “humjob” as one instance of reduced swearing in order to keep their PG-13 rating. The language does do its job of making this feel like a more grown up story in places and adds to the humor in others including one humorous moment that confuses the line between literally and figuratively. But it never really detracted from the movie.
While the Amazing Spider-Man films failed on several different levels, one of the high points for almost everyone was the chemistry and the romantic sub-plot between Peter and Gwen. What Marc Webb brought to (500) Days of Summer truly carried over to that element of the Amazing Spider-Man series. Too bad the expertise of navigating the various points in time within a relationship didn’t carry over to the criss-crossing paths of various supervillains in the Amazing Spider-Man 2. But that doesn’t detract from the fine film that this is. It can be difficult to fully empathize with Tom, but that’s perfectly ok because he isn’t a perfect character. He has plenty of flaws, but through it all he is able to do the right thing and let himself let Summer go in the end even if it took him the better part of a year to get over her. It has been said by some people that it takes just as long to fully get over a relationship as the relationship lasted which does generally fit into this film’s timeline as they start dating about a month after they meet and break up a little over halfway into these 500 days. And besides all that, we also get some minor character performances from Chloe Grace Moretz pre-Hit Girl and Matthew Grey Gubler pre-voice of the Riddler. Regardless, this is a fine origin story for Marc Webb and an enjoyable revisit. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.