‘This is not a love story.’
This is the promise that the movie guarantees near the beginning. This is a lie. 500 Days is a love story, just not one many people might expect.
Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a twenty-something greeting card writer falling silly head over heels with the quirky blue-eyed girl next door (but not literally, you know what I mean) Summer (Zooey Deschanel). At first they seem like a match made in heaven, discovering similar music tastes and general attitudes. However, one thing they disagree on is love: Tom has a fatalistic outlook whereas Summer is content with loneliness, claiming relationships just hurt people’s feelings. Their relationship becomes closer and closer, with Summer consistently rejecting the idea of a commitment, until the inevitable break up. Tom doesn’t take this too well, turning to alcohol as a source of relief and aided by his typically funnier-than-him male buddies and younger sister. The story, however, is not told in a linear chronological timeline, rather constantly switching between the 500 days of their relationship. At times this has a wonderful effect of following scenes of awkward office flirting to Tom’s devestated incohesive breakdown.
Unconventional to the genre, it describes love in an achingly honest way, one far more realistic than it’s contemporaries. As the film explains, we have been bombarded with images in the media of the fairy tale fantasy of true love resulting from random, and extreme, acts of affection. People fall in love every day, and every day someone somewhere is with the most important person on the planet and most likely it’s a romantic moment. 500 Days could’ve easily been a film about one of these moments. Instead, it destroys the illusion of love, favouring the much more common instance of tragedy, of disappointment and of loneliness – a human condition we all relate to, as much as we can relate to the conventional cinematic concept of love. The film counters these expectations excellently, with Marc Webb showing a true flare of originality in the genre. An exemplary technique of this is Webb’s utilisation of split screen photography, with one screen displaying expectations and the other showing reality. In an almost Freudian manner, the expectations screen is what we want to happen, in fact we, as Tom does, expect it to happen – for the two main characters to be together again. But the film will inevitably always follow the story of reality, becoming arguably one of the only films with a grasp on the growing trend in society: not all relationships last forever and that there may not be just one ‘true love’ for someone. In fact, the film encourages this concept, as effectively as any Allen film does, showing Tom’s lesson of learning to reject the dream relationship as the most sensible perspective.
Okay, maybe the Morgan Freeman in anything meets Alec Baldwin in The Royal Tenenbaums omniscient narrator is a slight downfall, becoming annoying at times when it’s unnecessary. And I have to admit I’m not sure just how much this is a film for girls. Directed, written and predominantly told from the male perspective, 500 Days exploits this to make a clever social commentary on the way we often judge other relationships and couples without empathising at all with their actions, rather just ignorantly despising anothers’ happiness.
The two actors, Gordon Levitt and the multi talented Deschanel, bring a fantastic weight to the film that frankly transforms the dialogue to a wealth of meticulous thought. We get the notion that what we see on screen is only the tip of the iceberg, and much of the acting isn’t what the characters are doing, rather what they leave unsaid. Tom represents the optimistic hope in true love, this being the character’s fatal flaw and one that will eventually turn his perception of love on it’s head. 500 Days also displays a sponge like ability to absorb similar films…whether that be Annie Hall (not once do they utter ‘I love you’ to each other), High Fidelity’s pulp-ular (new term, watch this space) background, or probably most important, The Graduate’s unforgettable ending parallel with their relationship, albeit with the roles reversed. 500 Days is almost a modern day The Graduate, this generation’s High Fidelity and the next cinematic era’s Annie Hall. But more than this – right now it tells a seldom heard story on screen. With more films like 500 Days, it’s not too egotistical to say a large proportion of lonely people (men really) wouldn’t feel isolated by cinema. The story is so fantastically constructed that for teenagers and young people alike today, there’s simply no alternative to the idyllic love story constantly streamed to us better than 500 Days. with the shot fading away just before the kiss, as if the audience’s pain is shared with Tom’s – we don’t want to see the happy ending. Ultimately, this is what the film works for . A little serendipity steps in now and then, but no more and no less than what can move the story towards a rational ending. A simple message is communicated that the film unfortunately spells out letter by letter for avid Facebook users everywhere to status, that contrary to the popular belief amongst young people there is no destiny, only coincidence.
Straightforwardly, the film is telling us that we are in control of our lives, and for that, 500 Days is a far more ‘realism-not-pessimism’ story that’s far more worth watching to a young audience than any romantic film for the last 10 years.