It’s kind of odd that a romantic comedy has been the hardest hitting, yet most cathartic movie of my life.
I’ll be upfront about this post – it’s likely to be one that tells the most about myself personally, and will talk a lot about the power film can have.
Before we get into all that, let’s talk about what makes this film great from a purely theatrical perspective. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the films uses a non-linear approach to allow the audience to experience the rise and falls of a JGL’s relationship with Deschanel’s character, aptly named Summer. The director, Marc Webb, at the time had a mostly music video background, and that clearly heavily influenced his filmmaking. (500) Days of Summer moves at a brisk pace, and makes great use of music and subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) moments of animated overlays to create a unique flair for the film. On it’s own it is one of my favorite romantic comedies, and an excellent film overall. My experience seeing it for the first time, however, is what made me cherish the film forever.
I saw the film for the first time when it premiered at Sundance back in January of 2009. When I was in film school I used to attend Sundance every year with two of my friends, and as soon as single tickets were on sale, we would try to snag as many as we could afford for films we thought might be interesting. It was always a crap shoot, but thankfully I’ve only seen a handful of duds over the years, and normally saw 12-15 movies across a few days. When we went to buy tickets this particular year, we found that based on our schedule in mind, there were only 2 available tickets to see Bronson, meaning one of us would have to find another film. Unfortunately at that time the only available film was for a “TBD” slot, meaning we’d be going in blind. Even though I really wanted to see Bronson, I volunteered to take the solo ticket, and be surprised once we got to the festival.
It might have seemed a little noble to do that, but the truth was, I’d been having a pretty shitty time and didn’t really care about much. I’d just gone through a rough breakup, ending what was an inevitably dragged out five year relationship. For anyone that’s gone through something like that, the only comparison I have to it is death – someone you shared everything with is suddenly gone. We’d starting dating in high school, and now that we were almost out of college, we were both so different. We’d talked about marriage – she was set on it, and I wasn’t. After a downward spiral for about six months, I finally ended it, just before Thanksgiving. After a few weeks came the doubts, seemingly from both sides. We started to talk again, inadvertently spurred on by some drunken phone calls and text. Having had the break and some time apart to look on everything that was wrong, we realized we never wanted to fix anything, we just had wanted it to fix itself. It looked like it might work out, and we might get back together.
And then I found out, via Facebook no less, that she was in another relationship. With no explanation offered, it was officially over, and in the laziest, most cliched modern way. And it was the day before I left for Sundance. My heart crushed, I packed my bag and put on a good face, trying to tell myself to have a good time. As soon as the trip began my friends sensed something was up, evening stealing my phone while I was in the shower to get a better picture before confronting me on it. They caught me texting at odd hours trying to better understand why she’d left me hanging. I was depressed, and wanted some answers.
Thankfully I was at Sundance, and with two great friends, so finding a distraction wasn’t hard. Still, whenever we had some downtime, or got to our hotel late at night, my mind wandered. Somehow in my mother’s infinite wisdom she sensed something was up, and had called and texted me numerous times while I was away. Still, it was all building up inside of me, and I didn’t really know what to do. As luck would have it, I was going to have a break from everything, and be going to see an unknown movie by myself while my friends were at Bronson.
That movie was (500) Days of Summer.
Sitting down in the theater I was bummed out and lost. I had no idea what to expect from the film and was blown away, not only by the product itself, but by the sheen chance that the story being told was eerily similar to my own that was currently unfolding. But in Summer, there’s an ending that is positive and encourages learning and growing to be able to move on – my story was still uncertain, but I suddenly felt a lot better and could breath easier. I just needed to find my “Autumn”.
The progression of the film echoed my life so perfectly that I was truly meant to be in that screening. From the awkward courtship of the leads, to the eventual being stuck in a rut and dissolution of the relationship. Even the incredible split screen sequence about “expectations” vs “reality” spoke so clearly to me – I thought we were going to start fresh only to find I’d been kicked in the face. As I was walking into the theater my mom had texted me telling me that she had seen most of our relationship and that it wasn’t as great as I would like to make it out to be. During the film Chloe Grace Moretz, playing JGL’s sister tells him, “No, I think you’re just remembering the good stuff, next time you look back, I, uh, I think you should look again”, which is followed by a montage previously seen, only this time with a more discerning eye. Thank goodness the theater was loud and dark, because I broke down as I started to think about the awful state my relationship had really gotten to.
By the time the film ended and the light came back up I felt as though a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The cast was there for a Q&A, which was a blast, and gave me time to recover before I went to meet up with my friends. Once I found them at a bagel shop, they were gushing about Bronson and how I had to see it should it get a full release. They asked how (500) Days of Summer was, and I was almost at a lost for words. I probably used some phrases like “incredible” or “life-changing” but I doubt it conveyed how hard the film hit me, and how it really started to heal my broken heart.
When fall came around later that year, the film had a theatrical release and I took a girl to see it. She loved it, and afterwards kind of got a kick out of the fact that my story resonated so similarly. We’re married now. She was my Autumn.