October 28, 2009 -- “500 Days of Summer” is not about global warming and it isn't a love story, either. It makes that perfectly clear at the beginning of the movie, but it is a movie about love. This is a story that most people can probably relate to, unless you are one of those lucky people never to have been on the losing end of the game of love. The story reminded me a little of that gem of a movie about love, “Definitely, Maybe.”
Hopping back and forth in time, using the number of days in this failed romance as a reference point, and at times using a split-screen technique to convey the difference between expectations and reality, this is certainly a film filled with novelties. Although the gimmicks wear thin at times, it eventually gets around to telling a complex story about a relationship between a man and woman. The man, Tom Hansen (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is drifting through life as a writer of greeting cards. The woman, Summer Finn (yes, that's where the movie's title comes from) is played by Zooey Deschanel of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Summer is a carefree spirit who is seeking companionship and sex, but not love. She makes that clear to Tom at the beginning of their relationship, but Tom, being a man, ignores that little detail of course. Tom is a romantic who is looking for love. Summer doesn't believe in love. At the end of the 500 days, their respective views of love seem to have reversed.
Tom falls madly in love with Summer, but she doesn't feel that way about him. That a woman can have sex and intimate relations repeatedly with a man and still view him as only a friend, or as a brother, is something that no man in love can really accept, or understand. It is a also a bit sick upon closer examination. This is the situation Tom and Summer find themselves in. Summer doesn't help things by sending Tom some seriously mixed signals which keep him off balance. Tom, who has never been lucky at love, goes into a deep despair, and not for the first time. Summer caught him on the rebound in the first place. This profound experience actually transforms Tom for the better. He re-evaluates his life and makes new choices. He becomes a better person. Summer changes too, but in a more subtle way.
The story does a better job of explaining Tom's feelings than it does Summer's. Tom's joy the morning after his first sexual encounter with Summer is punctuated by a fantasy dance sequence, including a marching band, and the not-so-subtle eruption of a huge water fountain. Just as quickly, the scene shifts months ahead to find Tom an emotional wreck. These time travel shifts are used to compare and contrast the many different stages of Tom and Summer's relationship. The technique is effective, but I tired of it after a while. It was not the only thing about the film that was overdone. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves once again why he is one of the best actors of his generation. The beautiful Zooey Deschanel, with her dazzling blue eyes, is suitably alluring, mysterious and enigmatic. I found her voice grating as the film wore on, however. She's more of a character actress than a leading lady. Director Marc Webb succeeds in telling a complex story with some unusual film techniques. This film rates a B.
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