August 06, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

She & Him

Grade: A –

Director: Marc Webb

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, and Matthew Gray Gubler

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

In many ways, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, just as a narrator proclaims during its opening moments. Instead of indulging in the whimsy of soul mates and destiny, it is very much an examination of infatuation and, more commonly, the kind of white-hot romantic relationships that often burn out just as quickly as they ignite.

But, when the titular Summer (Zooey Deschanel) tells her by-then former beau, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), that she finally found a love with another man because, “One day I woke up and I knew he was the one, the feeling I never felt with you,” it’s a gut-punch enlightenment that also belies the film’s attempt to eschew familiar labels. You suddenly realize that (500) Days of Summer is, indeed, a post modern love story, just not the linear pap conditioned by decades of meet-cute romantic-comedies. This is a story about messy, irregular love, full of utter happiness and real heartache. Summer ultimately finds love, just not with who we thought or want her to.

Co-workers at a Los Angeles greeting-card company, Tom is a helpless romantic influenced, we’re told, by an early exposure to “sad British pop music and a total misreading of The Graduate. Summer is a dark-haired, doe-eyed commitment-phobe who loves The Smiths and holds Ringo out as her favorite Beatle. Director Marc Webb traverses their coupling by jumping around chronologically throughout the highs and lows of their 500-day relationship.

Gordon-Levitt is the film’s protagonist and star, and it is on his able, ever-improving shoulders that the film rests. And, yes, this is Deschanel typecast again as the quirky muse, but the subtly of her performance is its signature. We believe in Tom and Summer largely because of the verisimilitude of their emotions. You can nearly pinpoint the moment Summer realizes her attraction toward Tom and see it gradually bubbles up to the surface, finally spilling over during some copyroom canoodling. And, later we watch helplessly as the joy of their relationship slowly seeps out of Summer like a leaky balloon.

Webb’s visual expressionism, including a number of fantasy sequences, is captivating and occasionally humorous without becoming indulgent. One noteworthy sequence features a split-screen depiction of Tom’s visit to a dinner party at Summer’s apartment, one half dedicated to “Expectations” and the other to “Reality.” Tom’s post-coital ecstasy is expressed via a group song-and-dance routine set to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” (and a wink from Han Solo in the reflection off a car window). Later, Tom’s despair over losing the ostensible woman of his dreams is distilled into parodies of Bergman and La Nouvelle Vague dramas.

I cannot decide which is more stunning: that this whipsmart, pitch-perfect film was directed by someone with mostly music videos to his credit, or that it was penned by screenwriters with only The Pink Panther 2 to their credit. Nevertheless, (500) Days of Summer is a witty, refreshingly original portrait of Gen-Y love that can speak to audiences of all ages. And, although it punctures the illusion of happily-ever-after, the film’s affirming final scene reminds us that love is always just another season away.

Neil Morris

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