When it comes to love, some movies revel in the fantastic. Featuring larger-than-life actors chiseled to perfection, they tell sweeping stories of romance and conclude with unseen, happily-ever-afters that we’re conditioned to expect.
500 Days of Summer is not one of those movies. The couple is comprised of indie princess Zooey Deschanel as the titular object of affection, Summer Finn, and the geeky-cute Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays the lovelorn Tom Hansen. When Tom meets Summer at their office — brilliantly, they work at a greeting card company — he’s instantly smitten. Yet, their movie relationship (and periodic lacks thereof) unfolds like a lot of real relationships: it has ups, down, backwards and forwards that add up to a rocky road with a steep learning curve.
The DVD edition of 500 Days, which arrives this week, enhances the viewing experience chiefly through the addition of commentary. The optional feature includes behind-the-scenes banter from director Marc Webb, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and Gordon-Levitt for the movie, as well as for a number of extended and deleted scenes. Like the film itself, the voiceover discussion doesn’t so much build up a cinematic facade, but breaks it down with stories about the variations the actors explored in different scenes (how much champagne spit is funny?), and stories behind some of the songs in the film (Carla Bruni used a line from her ex-lover). Neustadter kicks off the film commentary with music talk, connecting the opening Regina Spektor song (“Us”) with Tom and Summer’s story, and discussing the demarcation between two people in a relationship.
Other aspects of the commentary underscore 500 Days’s residual effect, as much of the discussion about the film is essentially a discussion about love itself. Amid bickering about how one scene should have played, or what joke would have worked, the four men digress into musings on relationships and growing pains, and about the subjectivity of experience. About how when you’re really in love, suddenly cliches about love all sound true. And that when a relationship starts with bonding over a Smiths song, it’s almost definitely doomed.
The one thing that the director doesn’t enhance through commentary, however, is Summer’s casting. While Deschanel is undeniably cute, ironic and mysterious, neither the actress nor, perhaps, her lines, establish the kind of likability or compelling personality that would make Tom’s saga (and it’s a long, gut-wrenching one) more engaging. What is clear is that, like Tom, Webb is smitten by Deschanel’s beauty and authenticity — both of which are arguably acquired tastes.
Despite Summer’s debatable qualifications as a muse, 500 Days is a heartfelt package. With relatable actors and an unpredictable, rocky romance, the film delves into love, loss, fate and the painful process of growing up. The appeal is that it navigates all its topical shoals with wry wit, muted, hipster-worthy aesthetics and a sound track so integral to it that the film begs multiple viewings for the music (and the love lessons) to sink in.