As the narrator of “(500) Days of Summer” tells us in its opening, “This is not a love story.” That may be but it’s certainly one that’s in love with its own storytelling. The biggest frustration is that while that storytelling is phenomenal, the story it’s telling is thin, unemotional, and isn’t worthy of Marc Webb’s brilliant direction.
Told out of sequence, “(500) Days of Summer” follows the emotional arc of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect who works at a greeting card company and falls in love with the boss’ new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Tom’s problem is that calling him a hopeless romantic would be an understatement. He watches “The Graduate” and thinks that it’s a happy ending which, in my view, may be some form of sociopathy. But he falls head-over-heels for Summer and we see their relationship as it bounces back and forth from the highs of puppy love to Summer pulling away from Tom and the mix of anguish and regret he feels over their break-up. We see the story as it bounces around to various days and we see it through nice touches like references to classic foreign films and even a big dance number set to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” thrown in after Tom “seals the deal”, as it were.
As a feature directorial debut, you couldn’t have a better coming out than Marc Webb does here. While writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber did lay out the chronology jumps and other eye-catching moments, Webb makes them work and knows how to set the right mood and shot to fit Tim’s mood. There’s also a scene that does a split-screen of Tom’s expectations versus reality that will go down as one of the best cinema moments of 2009.
Sadly, for all the effort that was put into telling the story in fresh and innovative ways, the story itself is still flat an uninteresting. Romantic-comedy staples like the wise sibling (the painfully precocious younger sister dishing out romantic advice is agonizingly twee) and the kooky best friends are present while putting the entire story at Tom’s perspective leaves Summer feeling anemic and while I’m no fan of Deschanel’s acting abilities, there’s absolutely nothing to work with for her. Summer doesn’t have any friends or personal ambitions and while Tom may just be in love with the idea of being in love, it still has to be with a real person or else the emotional reality feels hollow. Gordon-Levitt has more to work with and he does a fine job but it’s a fruitless endeavor when the “love” of a love story is approached so cold and clinically while every effort is expended to the “story”.
I’ve heard that other audiences, especially the ones at Sundance, found “(500) Days of Summer” to be a delight and a romance in the vein of “Annie Hall”. I couldn’t find the emotional truth buried beneath the stellar direction so while the story left me cold, I have great hopes for Webb and his future endeavors.
Rating —– C plus