Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: "(500) Days of Summer"

"(500) Days of Summer" is a thoroughly charming romantic comedy that's not built like a standard romantic comedy.

There is no contrived meet-cute moment. There is no long and arduous delay before they realize they are in love, with unlikely obstacles preventing the recognition of their passion. There is a big stumbling block that comes along to drive them apart, but it does not play out like a Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock vehicle.

The stars are Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, two twentysomething Gen-Yers with quirky personas and indie film cred. We believe them as a couple, and we believe them when they're threatening to split up. Their connection and the dissolution of it are both convincing, and entertaining.

Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, trained as an architect but working at a greeting-card company as a writer. I liked how even though this occupation is supposed to represent a dead end in Tom's life, it's still presented as a pleasant to work filled with people who get more fulfillment out of writing pithy sayings for cards than Tom does. Clark Gregg plays the boss, and when Tom is going through a rough patch with Summer he politely inquires about his employee's black mood, and switches him over to funeral and sympathy cards. In today's labor environment, this man qualifies as a saint.

Tom's life changes when Summer starts working at the company. He's totally smitten with her, but tries to hide it behind a veil of nonchalance. His dude-friends (Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler) and precocious preteen sister (Chloe Moretz) urge him to go for it. Tom would probably keep on dithering, until Summer corners him in the office copy room and plants a kiss on him.

Marc Webb directs from a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. All are relative newcomers (this is Webb's first feature film, and the second for the writers, who also paired up on this spring's "Pink Panther 2"), and bring a fresh voice and breezy tone to this genre.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with the title referring to how many days since Summer and Tom first met. It switches all around, though, so early on we know that they break up, at least temporarily, somewhere in the low 300s. Days 50-100 or so are the magic time, when they're in that "stupid love" phase, trying out the beds at the IKEA store while people are watching them.

Summer is upfront with Tom, explaining that she doesn't want a relationship right now. But he's a bit of a romantic, believing that the minute he laid on Summer he knew she was the one for him.

There's a magical scene where Tom is overjoyed after his first night with Summer, which builds into a big musical number in the park that bears a suspicious resemblance to the one in "Enchanted." I nearly fell over laughing when he checks his reflection in a window, and he's feeling so great he sees Han Solo staring back at him.

I won't say anything about how "(500) Days of Summer" ends, other than it's probably not what most people are expecting -- but it feels right. This delightful, smart and funny flick just fits.

3.5 stars

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