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(500) Days of Summer
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tom Hansen), Zooey Deschanel (Summer Finn), Geoffrey Arend (McKenzie), Chloe Moretz (Rachel Hansen), Matthew Gray Gubler (Paul), Clark Gregg (Vance), Patricia Belcher (Millie), Rachel Boston (Alison), Minka Kelly (Girl at Interview)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2009
Country: U.S.
(500) Days of Summer Blu-Ray
(500) Days of Summer (500) Days of Summer, a romantic comedy that coyly wraps its moments of sharp-edged truth in a comfortable blanket of indie-film quirk, is built on a clever temporal structure that whips us back and forth through the eponymous 500 days of the relationship between a young man named Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the obscure object of his affection, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose only other credit is The Pink Panther 2 (2009), demonstrate a genuine affection for the turbulence of romantic entanglements, and it is their recognition of both the comedy and the tragedy of every high having a matching low that makes the film work so well.

If laid out in a straight linear progression, the story would go something like this: Tom, who has trained as an architect but is currently working for a greeting card company, first meets Summer when she is hired as a new administrative assistant. Tom is immediately smitten by her, but he is sure that she is too pretty to be interested in someone like him--that is, a normal, average guy. It turns out that he is wrong, as they bond in the elevator over their mutual love of The Smiths, and after a few encounters at work and after-work get-togethers, they become romantically involved. However, there is a fundamental obstacle, which is the fact that Tom and Summer have diametrically opposing views on the nature of love. Tom, ever the idealist-romantic (which is why he is so good at writing greeting cards), believes whole-heartedly in romance and love at first sight and simply “knowing” that someone is “the one” (which is humorously explained via an early flashback of Tom completely misreading the ironic ending of The Graduate as a kid). Summer, on the other hand, thinks that love is just a label and that relationships should be casual and fun, rather than serious and all-encompassing. Thus, there is a built-in breaking point in their relationship, and it’s only a matter of time before they reach it.

(500) Days of Summer, however, is not told in a straight linear progression, but rather in a whipsaw back-and-forth manner that allows us to see moments of happiness and sadness, tenderness and anger, togetherness and separation right next to each other. One of the film’s very first sequences is an awkward date that ends with Summer declaring that they should start seeing other people, thus we are primed from the beginning to understand that the relationship may very well not work out. This would seem to cast a pall over even the happiest of moments, but part of the film’s pleasure is the way it shows how our memories of the good and bad intertwine and obscure each other, depending on the moment. Marc Webb, a music video director making his feature debut, has a good feel for the material and is able to stretch it in numerous directions, at times allowing it to play as heartfelt drama, but at other times tickling us with the funny-sad absurdities of romance. These come at both ends of the emotional spectrum, with scenes of Tom wallowing in his own self-pity when the relationship is falling apart contrasted with the hilarious and out-of-the-blue musical setpiece following his first night with Summer, in which Tom and a park full of strangers break into a show-stopping rendition of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” It’s purposefully kitschy and silly, but it is also a pitch-perfect depiction of a romantic high.

There is no doubt that (500) Days of Summer is an exceedingly male-centric film, which is perhaps why I identified with so much of it. The entirety of the story is told from Tom’s perspective (sometimes literally inside his head, as in a devastating scene that uses split-screen to show on one side his idealized version of what should happen and the other side to show the discomfiting reality of what does happen). Tom, who is well played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is in virtually every scene, and we see him talking through his relationship highs and lows with his friends and what happens to him when Summer is not in his life. Thus, Summer is always in danger of becoming a romanticized abstraction, and in some ways she is because she is framed from the beginning as Tom’s ideal. Yet, Zooey Deschanel, with her slightly off-kilter beauty and inherent intrigue, keeps Summer profoundly human, and we can see why Tom would be so enamored with her and want to hold on to her, even when she is clearly and defiantly pulling away from him. One of the film’s most striking moments of truth is a replayed sequence of close-ups of Summer in bed, with one sequence narrated by Tom explaining all the little things he loves about her and the second explaining all the things he hates about her--which are, of course, the same things. Tom’s only defense in heartbreak is to hate what he loves.

For everything that is moving and funny and often brilliantly executed in the film, some of the plot doesn’t quite work. For example, we don’t believe for a second how quickly Summer moves on from Tom and plunges into a new relationship at much greater depth; I thought for sure it was some kind of dream sequence or waking nightmare. It’s also somewhat hard to believe that Summer would treat Tom with such casual cruelty by leading him on at a wedding after they have broken up, and then inviting him to a party, the purpose of which is all but guaranteed to devastate him. The point is to show that she has moved on and he hasn’t, but surely she would have more sensitivity than this, especially knowing him and his romanticized inclinations. Yet, even with these few missteps, (500) Days of Summer is a difficult film not to like. It has a frothy, effervescent charm that far exceeds its whimsical indie-film touches because it is rooted in the kinds of recognizable truths that give weight to what would otherwise be simply amusing.

(500) Days of Summer Blu-Ray
This two-disc set includes a digital copy of the film on a separate disc.
Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai
  • Audio commentary by director Marc Webb, writers Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Webb, Weber, Neustadter, and Gordon-Levitt
  • “Not A Love Story: Making (500) Days of Summer” featurette
  • Summer At Sundance” featurette
  • “Six Conversations With Zooey and Joseph” featurettes
  • Audition tapes (with optional commentary by Webb)
  • Storyboards
  • “Bank Dance” short film
  • Mean’s Cinemash: “Sid and Nancy / (500) Days of Summer
  • “Sweet Disposition” by Temper Trap music video
  • Filmmaking Specials
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateDecember 22, 2009

    The 1080p high-definition transfer of (500) Days of Summer on this dual-layer 50GB Blu-Ray disc looks excellent. The film has a particularly strong visual style, especially its purposeful use of color (both bright, vivid hues and desaturated browns and grays), which is nicely rendered here with lifelike tones and good saturation. The overall image is sharp without looking artificially enhanced, which renders fine detail without sacrificing a filmlike appearance. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack also delivers, with clear dialogue and sound effects and plenty of punch in the music. While it is decidedly front-heavy, as we would expect from a film of this kind, it uses the surround channels quite effectively to create atmosphere and enhance subtle aural details.
    The (500) Days of Summer Blu-Ray has a generous array of supplements, beginning with the screen-specific audio commentary by director Marc Webb, writers Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Recorded as a group affair, it does tend to get off-track at times as the four guys have a good time spinning stories, joking around, and questioning each other, but it also pays off with some great bits of information, including Neustadter’s admission that at least 75% of the film is autobiographical. There are also several featurettes, beginning with “Not A Love Story: Making (500) Days of Summer,” a half-hour look at the film’s production (interviewees include the commentary contributors, as well as Zooey Deschanel, producers Mark Waters and Mason Novick, and costume designer Hope Hanafin). You can follow that with the 15-minute “Summer at Sundance” featurette, which tags along with Webb at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival where the film premiered. Fans of the film’s two stars will enjoy “Six Conversations With Zooey and Joseph” (12 min.), in which they talk face to face about acting, the creative process, music, and Los Angeles. They also appear in “Bank Dance,” an odd but amusing four-minute Webb-directed short film that features one of Deschanel’s songs, and an episode of Zune.com’s digital series Mean’s Cinemash, in which they take on the main roles in Sid and Nancy, but not as you might expect. Also included on the disc are nine deleted and extended scenes, which total about 15 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary by Webb, Weber, Neustadter, and Gordon-Levitt; audition tapes for Geoffrey Arend (“McKenzie”) and Matthew Gray Gubler (“Paul”) with optional commentary by Webb; and storyboards for two scenes (“Summer Effect” and “Reality/Expectations”). Finally, there is a music video for Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” and six “Filmmaking Specials,” which are short featurettes about the film that aired on the Fox Movie Channel.

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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