(500) Days of Summer 

The One That Got Away: (500) Days of Summer takes a wise, funny look at love found, and lost, and found.

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Movies, as a rule, are not particularly introspective about the building blocks of romantic relationships. And if that’s true of movies as a rule, when it comes to romantic comedies, that rule has pretty much been carved into stone by lightning and carried down a mountain by a guy with a long white beard.

(500) Days of Summer is the kind of independent comedy that, at first glance, might seem like it’s going to be insufferable. Director Marc Webb—a music-video guy better known for working with 3 Doors Down than with a feature-film script—trots out more than a few visual quirks. The very premise—following the arc of a relationship out of chronological order—seems fraught with gimmicky dangers. But, no matter how goofy the film gets at individual moments, it becomes fairly irresistible for one simple reason: When it comes to understanding heartbreak and the role of different loves in our lives, this film is almost painfully wise.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom, a romantic soul working at writing platitudes for a Los Angeles greeting-card company, despite education as an architect that he’s putting to no use. Into his life steps his boss’ new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), inspiring an instant infatuation. She’s cute! She digs The Smiths! She’s the kind of girl with whom you can make a delightful day just strolling through an IKEA store. And so what if she claims she doesn’t believe in love?

The opening narration makes it clear that our two lovebirds will not have a happily- ever-after; the on-screen counter flips to the day of Tom and Summer’s breakup before we even have time to think of them as a couple. And while swinging back and forth in time between their happy couplehood and Tom’s despair might have come off as an unnecessary contrivance, breaking the story into discrete pieces allows Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to build a thematic framework: the notion that most people retrospectively think of their relationships in those bits and pieces, rather than for the larger story they tell.

And, many of those bits and pieces are simply glorious. One hilarious montage finds a blissed-out Tom flitting around the office, solving every creative block with a pithy heartfelt sentiment; another sequence turns the morning after Tom and Summer’s first sexual encounter into a fully choreographed production number set to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” complete with animated birds and a marching band. And, if you’re not won over at the outset by the brilliantly bitter opening “disclaimer,” you’re a hard audience to please.

But, as charming as (500) Days of Summer may be when it’s funny, it’s even better when it’s poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove himself as a young actor with an impressive range, and he’s wonderful as a guy immersed in every emotional moment. Deschanel might actually have an even-tougher challenge, as she has to sell Summer’s commitment issues as genuine without turning her into an ice queen. Together, they find a perfect pitch for two achingly wonderful late scenes: the wedding of a mutual friend at which they reconnect after their breakup and a party that splits the screen between an outcome Tom hopes for and what actually transpires.

It’s in these moments—and in several that surround it, as Tom tries to make sense of what went wrong with Summer—that (500) Days of Summer turns damnednear profound. Most romantic comedies deal with the wacky complications of winding up with The One; this one takes on the tougher task of understanding The One That Got Away. There’s a relationship that teaches you what you have to know before The One ever has a chance of being The One, and that’s what the filmmakers here understand: Lasting romantic happiness probably never comes without first surviving a few deep battle scars.

It’s a bit of a shame that Webb and company at times overplay their quirky hand. They give Tom a wise-beyond-heryears pre-teen sister (Chloe Moretz) as his guru and confidant, complete with utterly implausible dialogue. Indeed, most of the supporting characters are exactly the kind of types—the jerky best friend (Geoffrey Arend), the vaguely oblivious boss (Clark Gregg)—that you’d find in a much-lazier romantic comedy. (500) Days of Summer manages to be both uproarious and wistful by doing what those other romantic comedies so rarely do: telling the truth.


(500) DAYS OF SUMMER

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel,
Geoffrey Arend
Rated PG-13

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