July 14 2009 07:06 PM

Is (500) Days of Summer the ultimate date movie? Or exactly the opposite?



(500) Days of SummerDirected by Marc WebbStarring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Geoffrey ArendRated PG-13*9*

Goes well with: The Graduate, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

OK, it's here—the movie that isn't a heavy, depressing drama, and you should all go see it. No, I'm not kidding. (500) Days of Summer is funny and charming and painful and truthful. There are movies I like, movies I love and movies I appreciate. But it's rare that I'm genuinely smitten.

You see, the problem with romantic comedies is that they tell you there's one person you're destined to be with, and then they present two unrealistically attractive people too stupid to see that the person they're supposed to be with is right in front of them—until the very end, that is, when the light bulb goes off and they fool around and people go home happy because A) they got together and B) they aren't as smart as the audience.

'Course, that's bullshit. And one of the ways Summer calls bullshit on that conceit is by confronting the fact that pop culture makes it tougher for any of us to find love, because we're too busy looking for some idealized soul-mate. Just look at Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a decent hipster guy who writes greeting cards to pay his rent. He immediately notices when Summer (Zooey Deschanel) becomes his boss' assistant, but she's gorgeous and totally unattainable. Or is she? Turns out they have a lot in common. So when they finally get together (not a spoiler), she wants to take things slow. That's cool. Except that Tom falls hard. And fast.

Now, we're told at the outset that (500) Days of Summer isn't a love story. But it is. Even though this is a movie about a break-up, you fall for both Tom and Summer. He's the sort of dude you hope you're like or you wish you'd been in your 20s. A regular guy, decent-looking, not unskilled with the ladies, but not a player. Summer is cool and smart and enigmatic, and even though she breaks Tom's heart (also not a spoiler), she's (almost) always honest about what she wants and needs.

The movie has a flexible timeline, jumping to different points of their 500-day relationship, showing us the tentative first meetings, the excellent early days, the sad decline and Tom's long days and nights of despair when it's over. Sure, it's quirky, but director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber—first timers, all of them—keep things both tight and light. We're focused on Tom's high and low emotional points, and Gordon-Levitt—well, he just nails it. This movie works because the emotions he endures are so familiar and universal. When he's feeling good, when he can't believe his luck, even the morning after the first night together, you feel so good for him because we've all been there. And when he's his own unreliable narrator about the relationship, when it's all he can do to just hang out in his bathrobe and drink Johnnie Walker, well, you've been there, too.

The other thing that just feels so right is that Tom's life doesn't go through some abrupt change when he finally has to get over Summer. That isn't how things work. As hard as it is, Summer is about how past relationships form who you are and how you'll approach your relationships in the future. For better or for worse, Summer will always have been a part of Tom's life, and her impact on him will inform his days ahead. It's a tough truth to learn, one that's only found by pining for someone who no longer wants to be with you.

Sure, I could nitpick, though I don't really want to. Maybe it's like the heady early days of a relationship and I'm too blinded to see Summer's flaws. It's occasionally too cute, and Tom has a soliloquy at the end that feels out of place. But so what? Those things don't make me like it any less. Best film of the year? I don't know, but I do know that so far, it's my favorite.Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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