Music in the Movies: (500) Days of Summer

In the last segment of Music in the Movies, I focused on Quentin Tarantino’s use of music and his penchant for presenting songs as diegetic sounds. In (500) Days of Summer, the music is presented as non-diegetic but it still effectively serves the filmmaker’s goals. (500) Days of Summer is a quirky, clever, and incredibly honest romantic comedy that was released in the summer of 2009. Very witty, often quite humorous, and paced extremely well, the film was lauded by critics and landed on a number of “Top Ten” year-end lists of 2009.  It starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, a hopeless romantic, and Zooey Deschanel as the oft-distant Summer. It featured a soundtrack filled with the best that the indie rock, alternative rock and folk rock genres have to offer. More important though, instead of just being thrown into the movie randomly, these songs were employed extremely effectively, enhancing the emotionality of a number of scenes. The soundtrack fully captures the “hipness” and offbeat postmodernism that (500) Days of Summer so embodies.

The entire track listing of the soundtrack is below, but there are a number of songs that were featured in the movie which were not on the soundtrack. Belle and Sebastian’s “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” which I wrote about here, was featured, as well as Spoon’s “The Infinite Pet,” The Black Lips’ “Veni Vidi Vici,” and “The Music” by Paper Route. Several of the songs were used particularly well to increase the sentiments of a number of scenes. Regina Spektor’s “Us,” during the opening credits in conjunction with the home movies on the screen helped set a cautiously hopeful tone for the entire movie. “There Goes the Fear,” employed with a well-shot montage, also stood out to me as it almost symbolized Tom falling for Summer.

The use of “Sweet Disposition” on the train to the wedding also worked well as it reflected Tom’s hope for a second chance with Summer and instilled similar hope in the audience who at this point is already rooting for Tom. Feist’s “Mushaboom” in the very next scene was utilized similarly and it continued to echo Tom’s hopeful sentiments. The extremely clever split-screen shot that compared Tom’s expectations to reality was accompanied by Regina Spektor’s “Hero,” a perfect complement as the song starts out hopeful but ends in a dizzying disappointing tone, mirroring Tom’s feelings. “Vagabond” was utilized flawlessly, probably the best of any of the tracks. Tom had just hit rock-bottom and he was slowly recovering and picking up the broken pieces of his life. “Vagabond” conveys an inspiring feeling of re-creation, and its involvement in the scene completely enhanced its effect. “She’s Got You High” was played during the closing credits and really almost tied up the loose ends of the story, instilling confidence in the audience that Tom has truly found love this time and is happy.

(500) Days of Summer is a perfect example of effective use of music in a movie. Never overshadowing the action unfolding on screen but always providing a boost, the music helped communicate both the ecstasy and the heartbreak that Tom experiences over the course of the movie. While there were good performances and an extremely witty script, an impeccable use of music was one of the integral reasons why (500) Days of Summer was one of the surprise movies of 2009.

  1. “A Story of Boy Meets Girl” – Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen
  2. “Us” – Regina Spektor
  3. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
  4. “Bad Kids” – Black Lips
  5. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths
  6. “There Goes the Fear” – Doves
  7. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates
  8. “Sweet Disposition” – The Temper Trap
  9. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” – Carla Bruni
  10. “Mushaboom” – Feist
  11. “Hero” – Regina Spektor
  12. “Bookends” – Simon & Garfunkel
  13. “Vagabond” – Wolfmother
  14. “She’s Got You High” – Mumm-Ra
  15. “Here Comes Your Man” – Meaghan Smith
  16. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – She & Him
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