5.1

(500) Days of Summer

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(500) Days of Summer

Release Date: July 17
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg
Studio/Run Time: Fox Searchlight, 95 mins.

L
ove story tries too hard

In (500) Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, whose job at a greeting-card factory is a daily grind until new employee Summer (Zooey Deschanel) arrives. A clock ticks off the 500 days between their first glance and their eventual breakup like miles on an odometer. The narrator tells us at the outset that this is not a love story, and then—to keep reminding us of that—director Marc Webb shows all 500 days out of sequence, weaving the weeks of cute flirtation and courtship with the relationship’s mopey decline. At each juncture, an onscreen relation-o-meter spins forward or backward to help us get our bearings.

Deschanel’s unchanging face is hardly a clue as to where we are in the timeline or where we ought to fall on the emotional map. But the stubble on Gordon-Levitt’s dispirited face and the waning spring in his step probably would have been enough to orient the audience, so the dial-flipping feels overly rigid and overly cautious.

The biggest problem with the film is that the upslope is far more entertaining than the downslope. It’s more fun to watch the simplistic relationship building than falling apart, so the film’s humorous bits in the early days often give way to dead patches when we regrettably lurch into the hundreds. The film works in that the dialogue is sharp and witty, the soundtrack is hip and indie, Gordon-Levitt is effortlessly funny and wide-eyed Deschanel is a good foil for his quirks. But Webb (a music-video director) and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who also wrote the story for Steve Martin’s latest terrible Pink Panther movie) seem determined to break the mold of romantic comedies without having the guts to actually do it.

Despite the narrator’s advisory, (500) Days of Summer is indeed a love story, because almost everything we know about Summer and Tom revolves around their relationship. Their eventual separation—not bitterly but ordinarily—is a twist of the plot, not of the heart, and the warning not to get too invested in the couple feels schizophrenic, setting them on the annoying path of a ping-pong ball.

The intercutting eventually kills the momentum, causing the film’s second half to drag. But (500) Days of Summer was surprisingly popular with audiences at the Sundance and SXSW film festivals, most likely because of the film’s rousing final minute, which aims to send people into the lobby with smiles on their faces. The conclusion does reclaim some of the film’s early spunk, and that springboard may be all film-festival audiences need to declare to their friends that they were among the first to see the next Garden State or Juno. Overall, it’s a modest success—slickly produced, attractively shot by Juno cinematographer Eric Steelberg, perfectly enjoyable in its light moments but unduly weighed down by the remainder.

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