If you’ve ever mooned over a girl, this movie’s for you. Yes, savour that paper-cut smile. You know the girl I’m talking about. You met her in your teens or your early twenties. She had a way of dressing just so. Her quirks were sonnet-worthy. She probably rode a bike, or played an obscure instrument. The chances of the relationship working were nil, but her cool only encouraged you. For you, love was all about delay. So you pratted about; writing a script for the pair of you, while she eyed up someone else. It ended. You met the right girl. And now you get to laugh fondly at yourself in 500 Days of Summer.
An ordinary guy with a yo-yo heart meets a pretty girl. They work at the same office. He regards his job like a comfortable chair. Instead of a career, he’s focused on romance (oh for a swirly font!). The pretty girl wants to date (which is: Not. The. Same. Thing). They go out, and the guy assembles his own heartbreak. The trick in the movie is that we keep hopping back and forth between Day 1, when Summer was the guy’s kooky saviour, and Day 450, when she “took a giant shit on [his] face”. Summer never quite promises him anything, but yearning (as we know) thrives on what’s “almost”.
Nerds are powerless to resist Zooey Deschanel. She’s named after a J.D. Salinger novel. She has a voice like a disappointed cloud. Her eyes are like bloody tractor-beams (to use an appropriately nerdy simile). And she dresses demurely. In 500 Days of Summer her role is to be everything a nerd’s heart could desire (in short: seemingly approachable, but actually remote). Like most girls in boy-meets-girl movies, she’s present in the boy’s head more than she is on screen. But Zooey can do a lot without talking, and she makes Summer into someone forgivable, even when she breaks a boy’s heart. She’s the perfect girl for a recollected love affair: spiky, sad, and pretty in a way you either worship, or can’t understand.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks like the kind of guy who’d fall for Zooey; a guy who thinks too much. From his pencil-thin physique to his earnest eyebrows, he beckons big knotty feelings. Like a young Samuel Beckett, he’s a good-looking nerd who’s a bit intense for most girls. But scrunched-up guys are good for comedy. The movie might be a rough road for Gordon-Levitt’s character, but it’s ok to laugh. He’s going through hell – but it’s the good kind of hell (heartbreak, like braces, is ultimately beneficial). And when he’s happy – as the song-and-dance scene shows – he can hear music, like the rest us. The movie isn’t a tragic, how-I-lost-her story. It’s about a neurotic who discovers misery won’t kill him.
First-time director Marc Webb is obviously a guy who’s watched Annie Hall, but his movie isn’t going to get him sued by Woody Allen. 500 Days of Summer is more like a twenty-something’s primer for how romantic comedies should be made. After all, we’re a long way from the non-linear hey-day of the 1970s. A rom-com is seen as radical these days if the heroine stops herself from falling over. So Webb is obliged to keep a few staples in: the friends who act as a Greek chorus, a sing-along-able soundtrack, and so on. Where 500 Days does buck the (recent) trend is in its honesty: love, in this movie, does not guarantee wedding bells.
I promise you this: you will miss the days when you loved the wrong girl. Not the girl herself. (You know by now she wasn’t right for you.) But this movie nails the bliss of being hung up. A love that lasts doesn’t involve much walking on eggshells. But precarious love – love that’s one-and-a-half-sided – one constantly fraught and sputtering, is nothing but cherished tenterhooks. You get older and you find love can be simple (i.e. the girl loves you back, and shows this by making your life better). But everyone should experience a love that’s not right. Only robots have no scars.