Perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps my eternal lust for an intelligent romantic comedy (think Juno) got the better of me. We all loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 10 Things I Hate About You, and Zooey Deschanel was one of the reasons Almost Famous was such an awesome movie. The commercials telling us that (500) Days of Summer was not “a love story” made us interested—we went to see these two beloved actors fall in love.
It starts out boy meets girl—but the irritating voice of the narrator tells us that it is not a story about a boy meeting a girl. This is supposed to be hip and ironic.
Zooey Deschanel, as Summer Finn, is an enigma, or that's what the filmmakers want us to think. She tells Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in an awkward office-endorsed drunken karaoke night (I want to work there!) that she doesn't want to be “anyone's anything” and that commitment is far off in her future. She is then told that she is a “guy” by the goofy best friend. Alas, it is impossible for a woman to want anything less than a diamond engagement ring and a June wedding at the Plaza (you've got us pegged, boys!). After a random, highly erotic copy room make out session (again, I want to work there!), she tells Tom she isn't looking for anything serious. With his nauseating puppy-dog look, Tom agrees, saying he'll keep it casual. The next sequences go back and forth between their miserable days with each other and their occasional mediocre ones, which Tom thinks are the best and most meaningful days of his life.
He follows her around like an obedient dog and spends most of his time analyzing why she didn't smile when he held up a certain record and how she didn't listen to his mix CD (8th grade anyone?). He loves everything about her, alternately hates everything about her, goes to his pre-pubescent sister for advice and survives off Twinkies, whiskey and orange juice for approximately twenty days straight after their breakup. Though he works at a greeting card company, he owns a spacious apartment in Los Angeles and was training to be an architect but gave it up for mysterious reasons, though he lovingly sketches some buildings on her arm in one scene, babbling about light capacity. I'm not sure if this means anything; in fact it never actually becomes clear what his interest in architecture means. The movie prefers to center around his self-absorbed dealings with a female who does not seem particularly interested in him and his repeated attempts at stalking her.
Summer, though she detests relationships, continually flirts with Tom, thereby stringing him along for the entirety of the movie. The only interesting things about Summer are her fabulous vintage dresses (kudos to costume design) and huge blue eyes. Of the things we're supposed to think are cool about her: she likes Ringo Starr, The Smiths, and she has read The Picture of Dorian Grey. That's about it. She is a secretary, has no visible ambitions, was called “Anal Girl” in college (because she was neat) and has of course, a gorgeous apartment. One night she admits she had a dream about flying and tells Tom: “I've never told anyone that before.” Yawn.
This movie was said to be refreshing by many critics, but really no parts of it are invigorating, and little of it resembles real life. The dialogue is halting, and an awkward undercurrent plays throughout the entire movie, punctuated by my uneasy giggles to lessen my extreme discomfort. No sparks fly between the main characters—there is none of the chemistry that occurs in an actual relationship. That might be because neither character has much depth. Sure, they have some slapdash pseudo-idiosyncrasies, but they boil down to two hipster stereotypes.
The supposed draw of this movie is that it is about an independent woman who does not want to be tied down in a relationship. However, in the end, Summer gets married to someone else. When Tom questions her about this, she explains it away by the fact that she just knew this other guy was The One. So everything she said about not wanting commitment didn't mean anything; it just boiled down to the fact that she didn't really like Tom all that much.
Wow. I wasted $10 and an hour and a half, and it is now confirmed to all male audience members that all women really do want commitment.
Deborah Nadler is a freelance writer and feminist finishing up her degree in Comparative Literature from Smith College, after which she hopes to become a physician. Despite her father's claim that "doctors don't write books," she has aspirations to become a published novelist.