(500) Days of Summer is the perfect Valentine’s Day movie. Released in 2009, the rom-com chronicles the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), two co-workers with polar opposite views on love. The former believes he is destined to find “The One” someday, while the latter sees that very idea as an irrational fantasy. When Tom meets Summer, he’s instantly smitten with her as they connect over shared interests such as their tastes in indie music. He becomes convinced Summer is the girl he’s been looking for his whole life, despite being told repeatedly by Summer she isn’t looking for a serious boyfriend. Of course, Tom eventually gets heartbroken when he finally realizes Summer isn’t what he wants her to be and she leaves him.
At the time of its release, (500) Days of Summer was praised for being a refreshingly offbeat entry in its tried and true genre, bolstered by a catchy soundtrack and the chemistry of its leads. It was nominated for two Golden Globes (including Best Picture – Comedy or Musical) and a Writers Guild Award. In addition to those accolades, (500) Days of Summer grossed $60.7 million at the worldwide box office, cementing it as a big success. However, in the 10+ years since its premiere, the film has been subject to some harsh reevaluations that are far more critical than the initial responses. But that isn’t entirely fair to the movie, and as couples celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is the ideal film to watch.
Most of the (500) Days of Summer backlash stems from the fact most of the film is told from Tom’s warped perspective, leaving little time to fully develop Summer as a character. This has led some to accuse the movie of having problematic themes and messages, running the risk of being misogynistic. What was once cute and quirky is now seen as off-putting; time hasn’t been very kind to (500) Days of Summer as rewatches highlight its perceived faults. While no film is above criticism, an argument can be made some of the critiques lobbied against (500) Days of Summer are off-base.
The film is essentially a deconstruction of the typical Hollywood rom-com and doesn’t promote the idealized romance those movies usually contain. (500) Days of Summer pokes holes in Tom’s worldview from its opening minutes, calling him out for completely misreading The Graduate (which ultimately becomes the catalyst for his breakup with Summer). The whole point of the movie is Tom is wrong. He was unhealthily obsessed with Summer and tried to force her into something she wasn’t comfortable with, eventually pushing her away and ruining a good thing. No less an authority than Gordon-Levitt takes this side, acknowledging Tom was projecting all of his wants onto a single person. While it’s easy to see Summer as a cruel and unloving woman, she was consistently upfront and honest with Tom about what she wanted – and Tom was too blind to see it. Even the wink-wink ending where Tom meets a new woman named Autumn is commenting on how illogical it is that there’s just one person destined to be your soul mate.
That’s what makes (500) Days of Summer a perfect (if unconventional) Valentine’s Day movie. It illustrates what’s dangerous and wrong about Tom’s point of view, serving as an achingly relatable cautionary tale about what not to do – regardless if one is single, in the early stages of a new relationship, or has been with someone longterm. There are lessons to take away from the film, particularly in regard to the importance of respecting a partner’s desires and understanding they are a unique individual with their own goals in life – not the crystallization of a fantasy brought about by popular media. (500) Days of Summer isn’t saying a romantic relationship is impossible (Summer gets engaged to someone else, changing her mind on love), it just takes a more realistic approach on the subject than the more traditional rom-coms. Much like the underlying message behind Gordon-Levitt’s directorial effort Don Jon, (500) Days of Summer is a warning against the unrealistic expectations other movies and songs can set for people in the real-world.
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