Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: (500) Days of Summer

When my husband said "Let's go see (500) Days of Summer," I could not have been less enthused. I hadn't seen any commercials or trailers for it; having no expectations for a movie can be good but inherently leaves one completely unmotivated to see it. "What's it about? Maybe I'll just stay home," I moaned even as we were stepping out the door. By the end of the movie, I was thanking him for dragging me along.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was once an aspiring architect, but now writes greeting cards. In some ways, it's the perfect job for him because he is a true believer in love. His belief that he will one day find "the one" are only reinforced when he meets the new girl at the office, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). He thinks Summer is just another unattainable pretty girl until she comments on how much she likes The Smiths when she hears "To Die by Your Side" leaking out of his earphones in the elevator. From then on, Tom is a goner.

At the office karaoke party, Summer tells him she doesn't believe in love, and says that most marriages, like her parents', will end in divorce. Nonetheless, they have their first date, quickly followed by a trip to the Ikea furniture showroom. After cavorting through their pretend house, Summer tells Tom she wants to keep things casual and asks if he is okay with that. A besotted Tom quickly agrees, but it's clear he believes that love will win out in the end.

The movie opens with a disclaimer that this isn't a love story, and so you can guess where this is headed. Their relationship is like Ikea furniture: it looks great on the surface and seems like it's going to come together easily but it starts falling apart almost as soon as it gets through the door. In fact, the movie starts with the night Summer tells Tom, midway through the 500 days, that they should just be friends before zipping back to day one of their relationship. But, like Tom, you keep hoping things will work out.

Anyone over twenty will recognize (500) Days' portrayal of the highs of falling in love (humorously choreographed to the tune of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True"), the averted eyes and tepid smiles of the person drifting away, and the soul-crushing days after your heart's been broken. I won't ruin the end of the movie but it's one of the most realistic portrayals of dating I've seen on screen; even favorites like Say Anything, Before Sunrise, and the recent film Adventureland pale in comparison. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel embody the earnestness of the smitten and the ambivalence of the pursued. However, it's the visual intelligence that first-time feature director Mark Webb brings to the film that puts this movie over the top. There is a split-screen sequence when Summer, post-breakup, invites Tom to her party that is so dead-on, it seems to have been sucked out of the collective memory of everyone in the world who has ever been dumped.

This is not to say that the story is depressing--to the contrary, it's genuinely funny, good-hearted, and original. Unfortunately, it is likely to get overshadowed by big-budget rom-com The Ugly Truth this weekend. Should you take the detour to the smaller theater, however, you'll step out smiling, whether you walked in with your true love or with a big, gaping wound where your heart used to be.

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