Architects in Movies 03 – (500) Days of Summer

I’m continuing my series of reviews of movies in which the protagonist is an architect. As a reminder, I have settled on a model popular with many architecture professors, which goes like this:

  1. Develop a set of categories specific to the project
  2. Rigorously apply numerical rubric based on satisfaction of program, interaction with context and relative strength of the work with respect to precedent set by similar projects
  3. Disregard numbers, assign arbitrary grade

In this way, the grades are equally meaningless for everyone which imparts a kind of perverse fairness.

Here are the categories and points scored by (500) Days of Summer, released in 2009, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Tom (JGL) holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture, but is working at a greeting card company for some reason. Then he meets Summer (Zooey D), his bosses new assistant. He believes in true love, and she ain’t havin’ it. Will Summer be charmed by Tom’s earnest advances? Will Tom’s spirit be withered by Summer’s maze of defenses and fierce independence?  Find out in (500) Days of Summer.

How you know this is a movie about an architect:


Title card is a sketch with gratuitous punctuation: +|500 //

Square format and filters before Instagram was a thing: +$1 billion


Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s perfectly toned … file cabinets: +6 pack


JGL talks a big game at the record store: +33 1/3 rpm


Only has two Smiths albums on his iTunes: -1985

can't put vinyl on iTunes

can’t put vinyl on iTunes

World’s fanciest booths in a karaoke bar: -15,000 double rubs


Kissing Zooey D is electric, boogie woogie woogie: -120v


Going to Ikea for a date: +4mm

Going to Ikea for pillow talk: -69

Architecture montage with some actual good advice, #ilookup: +90

Followed by some watery jargon (“you could maximize light capacity here”): -6,500K

Ties: +3

More ties: +8

So many ties: +13

(for no reason, here is every tie that JGL wears, in chronological order, following the movie’s timeline)


Total Score: 999,976,983.33

The biggest success of this movie is actually breaking the mold of the love story. It has the feel of a rom-com, but at the end of the movie the male and female lead don’t end up together. We don’t even meet Zooey D’s new fiance, which limits the opportunity for a dramatic wedding-crashing. But I found the movie jumped around so much and had so many creative gimmicks that it was hard to get wrapped up in the story. There was the ‘counter’  title card that popped up between most scenes, the Instagram-like home movies that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, and a particularly bizarre moment where the movie threatened to turn into an A-ha music video.


And then there was the hyper-campy end of the movie, where (spoiler alert) he meets a new girl named (wait for it) Autumn, then actually mugs for the camera. Angela and I actually looked at each other and groaned, but then I did some research and found out that the first cut was actually even cheesier:


On the architecture side of things, Tom was an emotional basket case, but about weird things like girls instead of buildings. So odd. Too many ties, not enough turtlenecks. The biggest, most accurate takeaway would be that you’re not going to be an architect if you’re not passionate about it, something Tom learns throughout the film.

Final Grade: C-

PS: I think I said at one point that I watched 12 Angry Men. Well, I did do that, then I lost the notes, then Netflix took it off streaming, so that may never get reviewed. Who knows. Just don’t lose any sleep looking for it on here.

All images from the film are used under fair use for parody and criticism.

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