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.
Love 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.