500 Days of Summer (2009)

I can’t really tell you why I didn’t like 500 Days of Summer without giving away the ending. I mean, probably. So there may be spoilers in this review. In fact, I may, at one point, tell you how it ends, describe the scene to you. But without context, you may draw the wrong conclusion about what I’m describing; you won’t know for sure unless you read the whole review, spending as much time as I want to spend writing this out, only to find that you’re wrong.

If I did that to you, would you enjoy it, think that it was a surprise and a delight, worth the time? Or would you feel cheated, forced to focus on something, an event or character that ultimately proved to be nothing more than a distraction, a cipher?

And what would you think of me for having done all that? I may seem clever and charming; or I may seem mean spirited. It all depends.

There are categories of jokes like that. They’re called “shaggy dog stories”. If you don’t want to click the link, a shaggy dog story is one in which the narrator tells a long, involved story with lots of repetition and digressions, all to distract you from the horrible anti-climactic ending or, worse, the awful pun that has nothing to do with the story you’ve been made to listen to.

Some people find shaggy dog stories funny. Those people are usually the ones telling the story, or people who enjoy telling them. Often, the reaction to hearing a shaggy dog story is not laughter, but a groan, for having fallen for the setup and not seeing the punchline coming. The listener groans because they’ve been had.

Likewise, at the end of “500 Days of Summer” I felt like I’ve been had, like I’ve been made to sit through scene after scene that almost promised me character development, that gave me tantalizing glimpses of the possibility of Summer’s (played by Zooey Deschanel) having some kind of inner life or rational motivation for doing all the things that Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) saw her doing to him.

Sadly, no.

Very little reason is given for Summer doing the things she is shown doing in the movie. And, worse, several times she’s shown doing the same thing in different scenes, but the second time is given different context, so the meaning of her actions are changed. There are times when this writing technique is clever and used to good affect, but trust me, this movie is not Rashômon and the director is not Kurosawa.

In fact, Summer is not a real person; the character only exists to give the needy, clingy and lack-witted Tom something against which to run the gamut of emotions from ecstasy to despair. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl without even the semblance of a mind or life of her own.

Worse, with all the post-modern flashbacks and scenes with more than one interpretation and fourth-wall-breaking dance numbers, the writers chose to use a freakin’ narrator. Narrators that are not identified as one of the characters in the film generally imply an omniscient viewpoint; but of course, nothing is to be trusted in this movie. Is the narrator up front? Are we to believe his descriptions of things? To the writers’ credit, they have the narrator tell us at the beginning that this is a boy-meets-girl story, but it is not a love story. To their detriment, however, they also tell us that Summer is special and amazing, without giving us much more to go on than Zooey Deschanel’s impenetrable charm and giant soulful eyes to validate that.

Seeing Summer’s hand, complete with wedding ring, resting on Tom’s hand on a park bench means nothing without context. Hearing her say things like “I’m not looking for a relationship right now” and then randomly kissing Tom in the copy room at work is the kind of story self-absorbed and emotionally-fragile men tell, not the kind of thing real living breathing women do. Tom’s view of Summer is distorted by the writers’ lack of imagination; it feels very hateful. I have no doubt that there are lots of men who will tell me that they, too, have known women like this; the “seduction community” is almost entirely made up of boys with exactly that take on women. But I am sure that the opposing stories, from the feminine side, would talk about stalk-y, grasping boys with bottomless pits of need to be filled. Or not filled.

My want for a believable set of characters, likewise, remains unfilled by this movie. But I kinda knew that going in.

This movie is Not Recommended.