It’s so deep, man.
by Gabby Curran
Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of rom-coms. The only ones I do enjoy watching are for their nostalgic value, i.e. 13 Going on 30 or A Cinderella Story. I was in high school when I first saw Marc Webb’s 2009 rom-com 500 Days of Summer. Being the oh-so-cynical edgelord teenager that I was, I immediately dismissed it as a stupid romance that I’d hate and proceeded to make fun of every trope I saw in it until the two friends I was watching it with told me to please shut up. Little did I know that as I was mocking director Mark Webb for using these tropes, they were being deconstructed before my very eyes.
For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, here’s a quick run-down of the story: hopeless romantic Tom Hansen (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a greeting-card writer in Los Angeles when he meets the more nonchalant and laid-back Summer Finn (played by Zooey Deschanel). Finding that they surprisingly have quite a bit in common, they strike up a friendship, which quickly turns into a romance of sorts. However, Summer and Tom’s drastically different definitions of the term “relationship”, coupled with their differing views on love, often put them at odds with each other and ultimately lead to Summer breaking things off with Tom. The film chronicles the span of their entire relationship, from the day they first meet to the day Tom finally moves on from Summer.
While I didn’t like the movie much in high school, I ended up giving it another chance in college. I was surprised by how much I liked it but didn’t think much of it until my second or third rewatch. As I watched it again (and again, and again), it became one of my all-time favorite movies. So, without further ado, here is a condensed list of why 500 Days of Summer is, in my humble opinion, the best rom-com of all time:
1. It’s (brutally) realistic about how love and relationships work
It’s rare to find a rom-com that’s completely honest about the nature of relationships. Sure, they include the sadness and grief that accompany heartbreak, but the way those emotions are depicted often feels too exaggerated and melodramatic for me to completely relate to them. 500 Days of Summer, however, is much more realistic in its treatment of these emotions. A great example is one of the more famous scenes of the movie wherein Tom is invited to a party at Summer’s apartment several months after they break up. Tom attends with the hope of getting back together with Summer, only to find out that she is engaged to somebody else. The scene is told via a split-screen, with the party playing out as Tom had expected it to on one side, and the way it actually unfolded on the other. The emotions conveyed by watching Tom’s fantasy get deconstructed this way are rawer than they would have if we had only seen Tom attend the party and had Summer’s engagement dramatically revealed to the audience. Don’t get me wrong––the scene is still dramatic in its own right, but it’s dramatic in a way that feel realistic for the audience. Seeing Tom’s internal thoughts and expectations as he finds out about Summer’s engagement prevents the scene from getting too unrealistic because we as the viewers are put in Tom’s place, as opposed to just watching his actions from the outside. The way the story is told in the film, too, adds to its realism. The first few scenes of the movie are mostly focused on Tom and Summer’s happier moments. As the film progresses, the darker and more difficult times in their relationship take over. This nonlinear narrative reflects the realistic way most of us think back on past relationships: we remember the good times first and sugarcoat every moment, until we level with ourselves and realize that certain elements of our relationships weren’t as great as we made them out to be.
2. The little things matter
500 Days of Summer takes no detail for granted. Pretty much everything, if closely looked at, will tell you more about a character or a scene or an idea the movie presents. Take Tom’s job as a greeting-card writer throughout most of the film. Tom is idealistic and has a dangerously whimsical notion of what love is and how it should feel. As he ends up realizing later in the movie, Tom accordingly makes a living regurgitating empty platitudes for people to buy. The scenes of Tom and Summer in Ikea are another great example of the film’s attention to detail. As we watch them frolic around the furniture displays, we as the viewers realize that it’s a reflection of Tom’s understanding of his relationship with Summer: idealized, polished, and shallow.
3. It always has more to say
There’s a quote by an author named Italo Calvino that I’m a big fan of: “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” While 500 Days of Summer is obviously a movie and not a book, I feel like this quote sums it up pretty well. Webb’s movie is made to be watched more than once. Every viewing makes you notice something new and different that adds to your understanding of the story. Most viewers tend to side with Tom and villainize Summer on their first viewing, as I did. For instance, there’s a scene where Tom punches a guy who hits on Summer at a bar and denigrates Tom by saying “I can’t believe this is your boyfriend.” Summer gets angry at Tom for doing so, which always confused me. Why would she get mad at someone for defending her? She’s such a bitch to Tom! Then I realized it was because Tom standing up for Summer, coupled with a stranger calling him her boyfriend, made the relationship feel too real for her. She constantly tells Tom that she wants nothing serious, yet here she is confronted with the fact that they are, in a way…serious. All of this is to say that Tom and Summer are complex characters, and you don’t really get a full understanding of them until you watch the movie more than once.
So, there you have it. 500 Days of Summer is different in its treatment of love than others among its genre––and I’d highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already.