Movies Nostalgia

10 Years of “(500) Days of Summer”

In the summer of 2009, I was in between high school graduation and freshman year of college. When I went with a couple of friends to the Magnolia Theatre in Dallas to see “Away We Go,” one of them pointed out one of those cardboard advertisements you see at movie theaters. It was for a movie called “(500) Days of Summer” that hit theaters on July 17, 2009.

I knew nothing about it really, but later that summer we went back to that same theater and watched it. I had no idea going in what an impact this film would (or even could) have on me. But before the movie had even ended, I was obsessed.

In my first semester at the University of Texas at Austin, I begged my parents to stop somewhere when they visited so I could buy the DVD of this movie that I loved so much. I need to have it with me in the dorm to watch at my leisure. And boy, did I. At this point — no exaggeration — I’ve probably seen the film more than 35 times. For a while in college, I’d watch it once or twice a month. When I said I was obsessed, I wasn’t joking.

And after all this time, it’s still the same movie, but I’m a totally different person. It’s been a decade! But the place it holds for me is not as changed as you might think. I’ve grown, and I’ve had new experiences, and the movie has been with me along the way. I loved watching it when I was happy, because it was so familiar. I loved watching it when I was sad even more, because it somehow felt like commiseration.

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “(500) Days of Summer”

It’s weird to personify a film so much, isn’t it? But it’s somehow not weird for me to think of “(500) Days of Summer” that way. When I first saw it in the summer of 2009, I fell in love with Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). I couldn’t understand how Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) couldn’t love him back. My idea of romance was, at the time, very limited. But I believed in soul mates and fate and everything Tom said. I guess it’s a very 18-year-old point of view, now that I think about it.

Even by the end of my college years, I still felt like I related to Tom. All he wanted was someone to love! Someone who loved “all the same bizarro crap” he did, as his sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) put it. I could — and still can — understand that. But it wasn’t long until my idea of the events in the movie completely transformed.

It may have been a little late, possibly my mid-20s, but all of a sudden I realized that Tom was…kind of a jerk. Or at least wrong about the situation. And Summer wasn’t a total bitch, but just an honest, independent woman who knew what she wanted. How had I seen the movie in such a wrong light the whole time? Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt was open about how Tom is not in the right. He’s been saying so for years!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Chloe Grace Moretz in “(500) Days of Summer”

You might think that such a revelation, or a change in attitude, would also change how I feel about the movie. You’d be wrong. I don’t hate Tom, partially because Gordon-Levitt is so handsome and charming, but partially because Tom is just flawed, not a total asshole. The movie shows that relationships are complicated, and not in the Facebook status way. But people’s feelings are complex, and communication is hard sometimes. There’s no way I could outgrow a message like that.

And in addition to all the deep, heartfelt stuff, there’s also the fun: “(500) Days of Summer” has an amazing soundtrack that introduced me to The Smiths, Mumm-ra, Wolfmother, The Temper Trap and Carla Bruni. It’s full of jokes that never get old (though there are two or three that haven’t aged so well). I didn’t go to an IKEA until years after I saw the film, but it made me want to go. Director Marc Webb included a show-stopping musical number set to Hall and Oates’s “You Make My Dreams” that is still one of my favorite movie scenes ever.

This was not the first movie I ever loved, and it’s probably not the movie I love the most anymore. But it was the first movie to show me that film can be so much more than 90 minutes of storytelling by pretty people.

So what was new to me in this one? The non-linear narrative, the imagery giving away the tone of the next scene, the split screen and the integration of animation with live-action and of music with onscreen events. Yes, its ending is sweet but cheesy, and what’s wrong with that? It was the first time I realized that film is a form of art, and you can scoff at that, but it means something to me, even 10 years later.

So rewatching the film for its anniversary, recording a podcast about it with a fellow film lover and writing this retrospective is the only way I know how to even get close to doing it justice. I’m so glad I went with my friends to the theater in the summer of 2009, and I’m so glad that this is the movie we went to see. “(500) Days of Summer” holds a special place in my heart.

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