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(500) Days of Summer -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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PARK CITY -- "(500) Days of Summer" is a lighthearted autopsy of a love gone sour from a strictly male point of view. You're not going to understand the girl very well, and you may learn more about the boy than you really want to. This imbalance throws off some of the comic possibilities of this rom-com-inspite-of-itself, but others will not be denied. The writing is often clever and the overall production playful and intelligent.

Fox Searchlight may coax a mid-level hit from this comedy. Certainly the film serves as a vehicle for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to pitch his claim for leading-man status in Hollywood films. And it reconfirms Zooey Deschanel's status as one of the town's most charming and talented young female leads.

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by Marc Webb, a commercial and video director making his feature debut, the film is male-centric in the extreme. The woman at the center of the picture, Deschanel's Summer, is the intense focus of not only her lover, Gordon-Levitt's Tom, but his two buddies, Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) and McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend). They all scrutinize her every comment and gesture like obsessed bloggers arguing about the latest video game. Thus, Summer is the sum of every male's perception of her without giving her much chance to argue her own case.

The movie opens with the declaration that this is the story of a doomed love that did not last. In those 500 days of Summer, she will dump Tom and he will have to endure the suffering and the advice of his friends and, more helpfully, of his wise little sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Tom encounters Summer at a point where his gears are stuck in neutral. Trained as an architect, he nevertheless works as a greeting card writer. He is smitten on Day 1, when his boss introduces her as his new secretary, just arrived from Michigan. The movie amusingly tracks back and forth through this year and a half to contrast a day of sheer glory with one of sheer anguish.

One highlight of this MO comes when Tom leaves for work following his first night with Summer. The world is in love. Everyone reacts to him with big smiles and high-fives. Eventually, a marching band joins in a celebratory dance number straight out of a Bollywood movie that continues until he hits the elevator at work. The contrast is the day he steps from the elevator looking like he just went five rounds with the heavyweight champ.

Another time, after the breakup but while he still harbors the fantasy of winning Summer back, the screen splits in two to show Expectations vs. Reality when he goes to a party at her apartment's rooftop. In these instances, the director and his writers are thinking visually, not verbally, and the comedy hits on all cylinders.

The template for this, of course, is Woody Allen's best comedy, "Annie Hall." The comparison isn't fair, but just think about how much that old film tells us about its eponymous heroine and think about how the film was about so many things other than the core love relationship. You learn about Annie's family, different ways of looking at things and what matters and what doesn't in life.

"500 Days" obsesses too much in its heroine without ever really plumbing her depths. Does she even have a family? For that matter, does Tom other than his sister? The film struggles at times to find things for the couple to do and ways to indicate her fluctuating moods. His mood, curiously, never really changes -- he's too infatuated with her to have moods that don't directly relate to hers. When a friend says Tom acts like a stalker, he's not exactly wrong.

But as the old comic said, dying is easy and comedy is hard. And this comedy does deliver a goodly amount of laughs. Gordon-Levitt brings the right amount of emotions and sensitivity to what might have been an awkward role of a stalker. You get that he's more in love with the fact of love than with an actual person. You see his silliness when he is most sincere.

Deschanel, ever beautiful and elusive, plays Summer straightforward. She means what she says at the start -- she is not looking for a serious relationship -- and can't understand why that's not understood. She often fills in the blanks left by the romance-obsessed male filmmakers to clue an audience she is far from a difficult woman. She just hasn't found what she's looking for yet.

The film is brilliantly designed to take place in the revived downtown Los Angeles in such a way that it resembles New York or San Francisco. People walk to work, have rooftop parties, seek out urban parks and think nothing of taking the train to an out-of-town wedding.

The film's admiration of the city's skyline and street scenes dovetails nicely with Tom's reawakened interest in architecture. So these "(500) Days" go by pleasantly with much to see and, quite often, some smart, observant laughs.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Watermark Pictures
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg
Director: Marc Webb
Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Producer: Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Mason Novick, Steven J. Wolfe
Director of photography: Eric Steelberg
Production designer: Laura Fox
Music: Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen
Costume designer: Hope Hanafin
Editor: Alan Edward Bell
No rating, 95 minutes