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Soundtracking: (500) Days of Summer

by Chris Feil

Ten years removed, looking back at (500) Days of Summer is not unlike looking back at an old relationship. It’s a movie about earned perspective that in turn some of us look at much differently than when the film first wooed audiences. It’s like a strange artifact from a bygone time. Remember when we thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel would be huge? Remember when its love story was more widely considered a coming of age story instead of a “dude, grow up!” movie.

The film itself captures a nostalgia for something than never existed, embodying the kind of young male mindset that wants to will a great love into existence without having to see the real person. But the element that works best to reveal a film that has that perspective in mind, one of the things that also made (500) Days of Summer a movie Of The Moment, is its catchy soundtrack. Remember Feist?

The film reaches for the feeling of falling in love with its most memorable sequence, a sudden all-out old-fashioned musical number set to Hall and Oates “You Make My Dreams”. And sure, the first throws of love can feel just like this - and its gutsy, ironic showmanship still feels like an antidote to modern movie musicals that apologize for being musicals. But it’s a sequence purely inside the head of Levitt’s Tom, with the warning signs already there that he’s only falling for his version of Deschanel’s Summer.

Perhaps the scene only works to reveal Tom’s poor perspective to the more cynical viewer, one cautious to put themselves in his shoes and get lost in the serotonin of the moment. Or maybe it’s just that the film wants to pull the rug from under us and make us feel guilty later for enjoying the fantasy. It could be more ultimately effective were the film less eager to let Tom off the hook for his self-absorption.

The film, or at least the romance, is bookended by Regina Spektor tracks. The film’s opening credits are set to her wondrous “Us”, a kind of fantasy fairytale song but for the more jaded hipster set. Childhood videos of a boy and girl play opposite eachother throughout, turning the song into a lullaby of sorts for the kind of romance we’re always promised. The ideal love story that says nothing about earning love, or truly appreciating a person for who they are and not what they provide you. It pulls you in with as much easy sway as the flashier dance sequence.

And then Spektor returns as Tom finally sees the relationship for what it was. “Hero” provides a montage of moments we have already seen between Tom and Summer, now with a Real Girl and with moving parts and more nuanced emotions. The hero was actually kind of a jerk, one who painted his reality to suit what he wanted to see. It’s a much more somber tone than what Spektor had promised to begin with, lending a weight to Tom’s realization: he sucks.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (8)

I will defend this film to my dying day. The most painfully real part is that Tom viewed Summer under this guise of perfection that was unfair to him and especially to her.

A personal favorite of mine.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Nice write up.

I haven’t seen this again since it came out, but remember it fondly. I also think it still works as a coming of age movie. Tom sucks because he’s immature. Then he grows up; happens to all of us. The film, and Deschanel’s performance, make it clear that there’s more going on with Summer. My takeaway was that as a woman, she’s not only idealized, she doesn’t get to be the center of her own narrative. That’s a conversation that we’re still having 10 years later. But we’re making progress.

Love Regina Spector. And I miss Feist.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

Really nice write-up of a movie I did not like. Made me actually consider watching it again, maybe.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Adored this in 2009, and it was actually one of the few times ever I was compelled to buy the soundtrack immediately after seeing the film. Great use of the Smiths, also.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

A big quote for the "Tom grow up" argument (and one that's stayed with me, as a music nerd) is when Chloe Grace Moretz said something like "just because she likes the same crap you do doesn't mean she's your soulmate". Made that mistake once or twice.

And wow, Sweet Disposition was evvverywhere for a while (but still holds up pretty well!)

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Like Steve, I had to mention the soundtrack's use of Sweet Disposition (link below), which became my song of the summer after seeing this movie.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

The expectations vs. reality scene gets me every time.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

I remember liking but not loving the movie at the time, but the soundtrack was (is) perfection. I own it and still listen to it often.

Tom's a goober, but his sad puppy eyes in the expectations vs. reality sequence made me and probably every other girl who saw the movie want to comfort him. JGL's being so appealing tended to undercut or at least greatly soften just how unappealing and immature his character's obsession with Summer really was; I'm not sure any other actor could have pulled that off.

There's a line in the movie, I don't recall the exact wording, but I remember it breaking my heart, when Summer says something about her fiancé, that she made her feel the way she wanted to feel, but never could, with Tom. So cruel, I thought, and yet so true to life. We've all been in that relationship, whether in Tom's or Summer's shoes

July 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

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