Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt fall in and out of love in "(500) Days of Summer." (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Talk about a breath of fresh air: "(500) Days of Summer" reinvigorates the romantic comedy genre, throws a coming-out party for two young actors who have the potential to be major stars and introduces a director from the music video ranks who knows how to be inventive without being irritating.
That's quite a trifecta for a low-budget indie film tucked away in a late summer release, but "(500) Days" is not only the best romantic comedy of the year, it's also the first such film to almost completely abandon the romantic comedy formula. When that formula is done right and features charismatic stars -- as in the recent "The Proposal" -- it can still be a lot of fun. But it's rarely done right, and "500 Days" actually offers more than fun -- it offers insight.
And it does so by flipping back and forth across a calendar. The 500 days referred to in the title mark the time between when Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) first sets his eyes on Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and the day he realizes his love for her is finally over.
First-time director Marc Webb, working off an ingenious script by Scott Neudstadter and Michael H. Weber, never follows a linear path for long in this film, instead jumping from something like day 440 back to day 21 and then ahead to day 212, showing the audience the relationship from above in a way that's both novel and complex.
You know from the beginning there are problems, because the film doesn't really linger at the beginning. Yet at the same time you know there is goofy infatuation, emotional breakthrough, ecstatic connection and, eventually, hope born of desperation.
Tom is a greeting card copy writer in Los Angeles; Summer takes a job as the boss' assistant. Tom believes in one true love that awaits him; Summer doesn't believe in long-term relationships.
A love of Smiths music and their own mutual attractiveness draws them together; a sense of humor and passion keeps them going. But neither Tom nor Summer really has a change of attitude and their inevitable troubled future is obvious from the beginning -- especially since the film takes you to that inevitable troubled future from the beginning.
The fact that these two characters fall for each other is hardly surprising since the audience is doomed to fall for each of them as well, and this is where the sheer force of star power is evident. Watch this film and try to imagine anyone else cast as one of the leads.
Both Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are constantly employed actors, and indeed at the cusp of 30 both are longtime veterans (they even co-starred in 2001's "Manic").
But while Gordon-Levitt has done some fine work in the indie world ("Brick," "The Lookout") while trying to grow out of child stardom ("Third Rock from the Sun"), Deschanel has played the too-young love interest in various blockbusters ("Elf," "The Happening," "Yes Man").
They've both always stood out, but here they get a chance to break out. Gordon-Levitt's smitten innocence to disillusionment progression is both giddy and haunting, while Deschanel's big eyes and lanky style still carry a soulful intelligence that's mesmerizing.
Yes, there are some minor problems. A voiceover narrative that tells us how special Summer is is wholly unneeded -- just look at her!
But when director Webb splits the screen to show us what's really going on versus what Tom wishes was going on; when the two sit on an L.A. hillside and Summer yells out a shocking word over and over; when the entire film bursts into a musical fantasy... this is special stuff indeed, and it tramples minor concerns.
"(500) Days of Summer" is the sort of film you wish would go on and on, but you're also glad it doesn't. See it, then tell a friend and another. This is movie magic most unexpected.
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