Making the Grades
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a rather idealistic young man who believes the "right one" is out there and when he finds her, it will be true love. Unfortunately in the meantime, his life isn’t all that ideal. After the aspiring architect failed to find a job in his field, he settled for an interim position writing sappy greeting card sentiments and hasn’t moved on.
But his life changes when his boss hires a new assistant. Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) may be average in many respects but she has a certain air about her that attracts men of all makes and Tom is no different. Meeting on the elevator, they begin an on again off again relationship. When it is on, Tom is walking in the clouds. When it’s off, he mopes around the house, whines to his buddies (Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler), breaks plates and seeks advice about love from his little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz).
To her defense, Summer makes it clear from the beginning (with words at least) that she is only looking for a friend. Dealing with the childhood scars of parental divorce, she seems intent on keeping her emotional distance. However her actions say something else. Kissing Tom passionately in the copy room, stripping down to the buff in his apartment and engaging in casual sex sends out mixed messages to the love-struck man. Before long, the swing of the pendulum between "love me/leave me alone" becomes almost as painful for the audience as it is for Tom.
Unfortunately for family viewers, the film contains frequent profanities, crude scatological terms and sexual innuendo. As part of a date, Summer and Tom yell out an anatomical term for male anatomy at passersby (including children) in a busy city park and canoodle on a display bed at IKEA. As well, they and their friends regularly imbibe alcohol at work, parties and social gatherings, often to the point of drunkenness.
Still the film, narrated by Jean-Paul Vignon and told from the male perspective, lays out some insightful moments of truth as it ping-pongs back and forth in time. Though Summer is clearly in charge of this relationship, both individuals experience the uncertainties endured by almost every fledgling romance. Tom struggles with Summer’s inability to commit. She is plagued by doubts. Both suffer from the consequences of not expressing their real feelings while playing the role of friends with benefits. But neither is ready to make a clean break.
Yet given their different outlooks on finding real love (he’s a believer, she is not), the chance of stumbling on a happy ending feels increasingly remote for this Summer fling—even after 500 days.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about (500) Days of Summer.
Do you think the male protagonist in this film accurately depicts how other men may feel? How does this movie turn the tables on the male/female relationships often portrayed in movies? In other films where men are heartbroken, how do they usually react?
Who do you empathize with—Tom or Summer? How may your own experiences and/or gender alter your perceptions of this movie? Do you enjoy films with ambiguous messages that leave individual audiences members with differing points of view?
What techniques does the film employ to contrast the characters expectations with reality? In what ways does this idea reflect the theme of the script? Why can the gap between expectations and reality be so difficult to bridge?