LA Plays Itself In The Movies: (500) Days of Summer

Most have probably heard already how last year’s (500) Days of Summer was some sort of love letter to Downtown Los Angeles (and IKEA), and, of course, it is. It’s full of glamor shots of old downtown building exteriors and landmarks like the Bradbury building, a lesson in LA’s skyline history from our protagonist, a downtown park in a supporting role, and even a random, awesome musical number featuring the UCLA Marching Band.


But this film does more than just take place in Los Angeles – it tells the story of many who have come here to live. Not because, as so many think, it’s designed for and starring a bunch of hipsters (I don’t actually think it is. Not everybody who listens to the Smiths is a hipster. And, sure, Zooey Deschanel is Queen of the Hipsters – literally, she’s married to the singer from Death Cab for Cutie. But, if all the hipster boys dressed like Joseph Gordon-Levitt does in this movie, well… I’d date a lot more hipster boys). It’s all about the high hopes one has when they get here, and what happens once they come crashing down.

Summer came to L.A. to try something different with her life. Tom is a failed architect who works a so-so job, and the only thing that keeps him going is the thought of of finally happening upon his true love somewhere among this city’s 3.8 million people (sound a bit like any Angelenos you know yet??). But as time goes by, Tom’s high expectations slowly but surely unravel, and he becomes jaded towards love, and life, and he nearly gives up on both (okay, now does it sound like anybody you know?). So many come to L.A. from all over the world, hoping to start a new life or make it big or just find a new way to provide for their family, wherever they may be. And too often, they leave heartbroken, disappointed or humbled.

For me, the beautiful picture this movie paints of Los Angeles is the ideal I wish the rest of the world would see, just as Tom wishes the rest of the world would believe in love at first sight. In my perfect Los Angeles, everybody would walk around Downtown and bask in the beauty of Los Angeles and have an appreciation for its history, or even just hang out at Angel’s Knoll once in awhile (adjacent to newly-opened Angels Flight Railway! Seriously, it’s an adorable date spot – pack a picnic or grab lunch across the street at the Grand Central Market… I could go on. But that’d be another blog post entirely). Basically, the way this movie presents Los Angeles (and the way our protagonist Tom sees it) is the way I wish others would see it and appreciate it, too.

There’s a pivotal scene when Tom goes to a party at Summer’s apartment, and it’s shown in split-screen: Tom’s expectations for his reunion with Summer, and the reality of finding out she’s not only no longer interested but that she’s moved on to someone else. No really, it’s labeled, as if you hadn’t realized yet that expectations vs. reality was a major theme of this film. After he leaves, sad and dejected, he steps onto the street and the downtown skyline turns into his Tom’s hand-sketched version of the same view, then gets erased. As Tom’s dream girl disappears, so does his dream city.

But in the end, Summer comes around and finally buys into Tom’s idea of love (just not with him), and Tom finds happiness as well. And luckily, people seem to be coming around to the idea of enjoying Downtown L.A., too. Maybe it’s the burgeoning bar and restaurant scene, maybe it’s overflow from LA Live into other nearby neighborhoods, or maybe this movie even helped, but I recently walked up Broadway on a Thursday night and it was absolutely bustling in a way I’d never seen before. People! Walking! Patronizing Downtown shops and restaurants and drinking establishments! Maybe not people who necessarily know much about the history of this place they were visiting (and likely walking from cars parked elsewhere, not the Metro Station, but it’s a start), but a bustling downtown like I could once only dream of back when I first moved here, and it seemed nothing stayed open after 7 p.m. If there’s hope for love, maybe there’s also hope for this town, yet.

Read the rest of our “LA Plays Itself” series here.

7 thoughts on “LA Plays Itself In The Movies: (500) Days of Summer”

  1. Great post! The thing I loved about this movie was how it was shot in “not the standard LA” angles and it took me a few minutes to understand that LA wasn’t just some stand in for another random medium sized city. It was LA! I loved seeing the city from a whole different angle.

  2. LOVED THE MOVIE but never understood why they used UCLA instead of nieghborly USC Band . To me USC represents downtown LA more than the west side bruins.

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