Friday, July 24, 2009

She Doesn't Love You

(500) Days of Summer

"(500) Days of Summer" insists on it being not your typical love story. In fact, it's not a love story at all. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl doesn't. First-time director Marc Webb provides a strong debut feature with this charming look at failed romance. It's a romantic comedy that sees relationships for what they really are. It's a fresh outlook that grasps at certain subtleties that other movies of the genre would gloss right over. What lies in between the initial meeting and the bitter breakup? Well, a slew of indescribably messy emotions that this inventive film manages to capture wonderfully. Sometimes in a romance we only believe what we want to believe, and then we get blindsided by what really is. Here is exactly what that looks like.

Enter Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who wanted to be an architect but ends up spending his time in L.A. working as a greeting card writer in an office. Enter the new assistant in the office, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who Tom falls in love with upon a first glance. And so begins the 500 days that are presented in a non-sequential fashion jumping back and forth between the high and low points of their relationship. Each scene of the movie opens up with a time card presenting labels such as "Day 3" and "Day 260." While it may seem gimmicky at first, this storytelling strategy actually works to the movie's advantage. By beginning the movie on Day 488, we see how it ends and have to backtrack from there. This style works like a scrapbook of memories, the only way a relationship such as the one Tom finds himself in could possibly be remembered.

The movie is greatly assisted by its two main leads who strike a perfect balance and never overshadow each other. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is utterly charming as Tom, a guy who can just as easily be cool and casual as he can be devastatingly disappointed and crushed. He's a likable hero to the romance story gone awry and a believable hero, too. Zooey Deschanel plays Summer as a mysterious figure, a girl who is maddening with her alluring qualities while never letting anyone fully into her world. She plays the part perfectly, and while we never fully understand Summer, there's something about her that allows viewers to agree with Tom's attraction to her. These two gifted actors share chemistry with each other even when they have their angry breakup.

Alongside a self-consciously hip soundtrack are some clever and quirky visuals, especially during the morning after Tom and Summer spend their first night together. Tom saunters around town suddenly engulfed in a musical number scored to "You Make My Dreams" complete with choreographed dancing and an animated blue bird. Other creatively original moments include when the scenery fades into a blurred sketch around a depressed Tom and a sequence of split-screen where the dream of expectations clashes with the harshness of reality. Along with being witty and laugh-out-loud funny, the movie boasts several insightful moments, specifically when Summer provides her dissertation on the frivolity of love and when Tom bashes the foundation of greeting cards.

The title of "(500) Days of Summer" sounds like it's referring to the season until you find out the girl's name is Summer. For Tom, she is not only a love but also a season, one of changing colors and moods and one full of moments of bliss and moments of suffering. And so it's only fitting that his next infatuation would be named Autumn.

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