(500) Days of Summer
- Directed by Marc Webb
- Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
- Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel
- Classification: PG
If you want to get over someone, take novelist Henry Miller's advice and write a book about them, suggests one of the characters in (500) Days of Summer . The film's co-screenwriter, Scott Neustadter, used that advice with his screenplay, basing it on a break-up with an old flame. Along the way, he has come up with a new answer to an old problem: How can you do something new with the Hollywood romantic comedy?
The answer is to make a film that is anti-romantic and only a semi-comedy. (500) Days of Summer , like Woody Allen's Annie Hall , dissects a romance that didn't work with a retrospective ache. The film is about a guy, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who falls for a girl named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The relationship lasts 500 days, but is not shown in chronological order: It begins with day 488 and hops back and forth as it revisits key moments, sifting for the clues that Tom missed.
Directed by former music-video director Marc Webb, (500) Days is clever and eventually rewarding, though it could benefit from losing a few of its more darling notions. The movie suffers at times from a surfeit of adorableness in its two leads, as well as clumsy voiceover narration and a general sense that the subsidiary characters have about as much edge as plush toys. Among Tom's support group are his unmemorable goofball friends McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) and his ultra-precocious preteen sister, Rachel (Chloe Moretz), who offers mature romantic advice.
As in other youth comedies, Juno or Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist , the characters in (500) Days tap into the emotional allegiances they feel for certain pop songs. A diehard romantic, Tom was influenced by listening to too-much Belle and Sebastian and the Smiths, and by misinterpreting the ambiguous ending of The Graduate .
A shy, somewhat unformed underachiever, Tom studied to be an architect but has settled into an undemanding job writing greeting-card platitudes in a downtown Los Angeles office. From the time he meets Summer, the new assistant to his boss (Clark Gregg), he is smitten, but it takes time for them to connect. After a drunken karaoke party, she makes the first move.
Once they sleep together for the first time, he imagines himself leading a troupe of dancers and a marching band through downtown Los Angeles. (It might be funnier if it didn't feel inspired by those old Dr. Pepper commercials.) Similar frame-breaking tricks, such as a split-screen, real-vs.-imagined encounter and a parody of French New Wave cinema, yield a low return in humour in proportion to the contrivance.
As for Summer, she's very much the object of Tom's affections, with the emphasis on object. We have no access to her inner life. Early on, she tells Tom clearly that she just wants to play the field ("You're a dude!" says one of his friends) but, of course, he refuses to believe her. Apart from Deschanel's husky voice, her style here is traditionally feminine, almost doll-like: frills and half-sleeves, dirndl-like dresses and blue eyes peeking out from under her dark bangs.
The film really only feels vital when it focuses on the pain of rejection. Gordon-Levitt's Tom begins to understand how he willingly deluded himself into believing he had found the love of his life. There's the scene when Summer looks bored by the repetition of their favourite jokes, another when she pulls her hand away from his and suggests ending a date early. Lots of movies are made about people falling in love; these falling-out scenes feel like a conventional romantic movie running in reverse.
Ultimately, the best thing about (500) Days of Summer isn't its gimmicky script. It's the constant performance of Gordon-Levitt, who shifts, scene-by-scene, from moments of ebullience to abject dejection. The actor, who came of age on the television show Third Rock from the Sun and has established a career in independent films ( Brick , Mysterious Skin ), has a guarded sensitivity as well as charm. Look deep into those puppy eyes and you can see the shock of a man who has just learned that love can feel like a hard kick in a sensitive place.