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Cinema in Focus: ‘(500) Days of Summer’

The romantic comedy is 'a story about love, but it is not a love story'

3 Stars — Engaging

Believing in love is difficult in these days of relationship confusion. Growing up in families where divorce has torn the fabric of hearts and lives, young adults today struggle to know if love is even possible. This struggle is the theme of Marc Webb’s romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer.

Using a cinematic technique that allows us to open the book on chosen pages rather than presenting a linear storyline, the romance is that of Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Summer is a beautiful young woman who has always captured male attention, but she doesn’t believe in love. Tom is an insecure idealist who believes one person is his soulmate, and he must find her to be happy. Their contradictory beliefs focus the relational and moral dilemmas.

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber in their debut film, the insights provided in the dialogue and narration are fresh and the characters endearing. From the opening words of the narrator explaining that “this a story about love, but it is not a love story,” to the inclusion of Tom’s sister, Rachel (Chloe Moretz), as his much younger and worldly-wiser sister providing him with sage advice in place of their divorced parents, to his two immature friends, Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Vance (Clark Gregg), who are recognizably familiar, to the dance scene Tom performs with strangers in the park to celebrate his joy, the entire film is playfully authentic.

When you add to this the masterful use of framing and transitions, black-and-white and color, shading and movement, the film demonstrates far more skill in cinematography than the few films Webb has directed to date.

The morality of the story is best explained by an early conversation between Summer and Tom, when she incredulously asks him if he believes in love. He answers that “this is love they are talking about and not Santa Claus.” When she asks him what it is, he explains only that she “will know it when she experiences it.”

Though true in one sense, and shown to be the belief of the writers by the unexpected resolutions within the film, love is more than experience and more than doing “what I want to do,” as Summer explains. Love must include commitment and respect to larger values about relationships in order for it to thrive. Although Summer finds love at the end of the film, it is easy to imagine that she does not realize both the fragile nature of that love or the necessity to care for it. If she continues to do only what she feels like doing, then the foundation of her love will crumble.

Finding our way within the minefield of broken relationships is increasingly difficult for those looking for love among us. This film is a beginning, but there is much more that needs to be said. We hope this team of director and writers continues the story.

Discussion:

» When Summer explains to Tom that she is not looking for a relationship, he betrays his own beliefs and agrees with her. Have you ever agreed with something like this only to discover that you have betrayed yourself? How did you resolve the problem?

» The decision of some today to have a casual sexual relationship creates a bond that is often deeper than the commitment. What do you believe this will do to relationships?

» The wisdom that comes from Tom’s little sister is far greater than her age. Psychologists call this a “parentified child” because the child is responsible to parent siblings and sometimes their parents. Why do you think the writers had a far younger sibling parenting Tom? Do you think that would be likely? Would it have to do with the age they were when the divorce occurred, or why do you think it occurred?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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