(500) Days of Summer

In the opening monologue of (500) Days of Summer, the narrator tells us, "This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story." That declaration is, on its face, a short and simple description of the film. But it's more than that, too. It references the well-established and universally-known tradition of the boy-meets-girl romantic comedy and relies on the fact that we all know that genre so well to quickly set up our expectations. The very next sentence, it turns that expectation on its ear. Really, it's a comment on the genre, itself, and the way we as audience members interact with it. And in that way, it reflects the film as a whole.

This is the thing about genre conventions, though: they're so deeply ingrained in our psyches that even with this kind of up-front warning, we can't help but fall into the trap. We can't help but expect that this movie, just like every other romantic comedy, will follow that pattern we're used to of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. And that's what's so great about this movie. By being so conscious of these genre conventions, by both following them and breaking them, it manages to give us a fresh experience. What's more, by giving us a main character that is just as locked into these patterns as we are, it challenges us to re-evaluate the impact these patterns have on the way we approach real life.

Somewhat paradoxically, the film's strength is also it's weakness. By creating a main character that's so representative of the audience's expectations, the film ultimately produces a character that's unreasonable, kind of whiny, and ultimately difficult to truly sympathize with. But then, that may well be the point.

Overall, I have to give the cast pretty high marks. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in the lead role, seems to have matured very nicely since his days in 3rd Rock and films like 10 Things I Hate About You. Zooey Deschanel was her normal quirky self, which worked perfectly for the role. The main letdown in the cast was actually a bit part, and was ultimately what kept this from being an A movie for me. Unfortunately, I can't say much more than that without spoiling things. (Though, with a movie like this one that telegraphs so much and is so wrapped up in rom-com tropes, it's hard to say that it could really be "spoiled" as such.) But the problems were pretty minor, and I have to say that this is the smartest, freshest romantic-comedy I've seen in quite a long time.

Viewed: 8/24/2009 | Released: 8/1/2009 | Score: B+

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