Half a brutally truthful, deeply cutting warning about the perils of overidealization and male-gaze self-deception, the other half a collection of cutesy-poo, faux-indie shortcuts and sitcom contrivances, Marc Webbs debut feature (500) Days of Summer feels like a movie at war with itself. There are scenes in this film that made me want to vomit with pangs of horrific self-realization, followed by other scenes that made me want to vomit because I felt like I was watching a sequel to Juno .

Yes, the female lead is indeed regrettably named Summer, and yes the film charts a failed relationship that lasted some 500 days. (And no, I see no reason for the gratuitous parentheses in the title.) But the big trick in Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webers screenplay is to slice-and-dice the romance into short, jarringly contrasted bursts and then shuffle them like a game of 52 Pick-Up. We begin with a breakup only to discover early days of euphoria, followed by boredom and resentment, and then back again.

Its a gimmicky conceit, but it plays out in all the ways you tend to remember things whenever youre reeling from a disastrous relationshipa barrage of great memories butting up against the later awfulness. It feels urgent and raw.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom, a pie-eyed aspiring architect biding his time at a greeting card company. It doesnt take long before meeting his boss new secretary, Summer Finn (the luminous Zooey Deschanel in an underwritten role) before he decides that shes the One, and therefore key to all his future happiness. Tom is ardent and enraptured, but shes still hesitant and withdrawn. Until one night

Basically Hes Just Not That Into You for boys, (500) Days of Summer jerks back and forth, occasionally criticizing Tom for pinning all his hopes and dreams on an obscure object of desire who probably isnt everything he assumes she is. Just like that greeting card job hes wasting away at, shes not really what hes meant for, but attractive enough and available at the moment.

The movie keeps leaning toward saying something awful about the protagonist to its target audience, only to sheepishly back away at the very last second, retreating into the safe comedy of fakey shopworn devices like sage advice from the wise-beyond-her-years kid sister. (Groan.)

A blank slate without any family or friends, Summer is a test of Zooey Deschanels screen presence, as only an actress this appealing could make us fall in love with a character so thin and one-dimensional. All she has to do is turn those enormously expressive wide eyes of hers on with gleaming adoration, then shut them off just as abruptly so we viscerally feel Toms ache and abandonment as their love fades.

Despite (500) Days of Summer s cloying affectations and annoying pop-culture references, theres still something energizing about a youth-targeted rom-com devoted to the idea that sometimes shit just doesnt work out and people arent going to live happily ever after.

Incidentally, I first saw (500) Days of Summer at a film festival, accompanied by a delightful couple who proceeded to fight like cats and dogs on the way out of the auditorium, after he called it a chilling portrait of a mean, sociopathic broad.

We retired to a nearby dive bar for further discussion, where I suddenly found myself face to face for the first time in ages with my own beautiful long-lost Summer (turned horrible winter) as she sat there sucking down gin-and-tonics alone, attempting to make pleasant small-talk through gritted teeth and spite. Before long we found an excuse to stop speaking again so I ditched my friends and ran away. Fast.

This not-great movie had kicked up so many nasty memories and cringes of identification, as had the eerily timed painful meet-and-greet afterward, I ended up blowing off my next screening and double-fisting free vodkas at a festival party, eventually annoying the ever-loving crap out of the great character actor Kevin Corrigan in a semi-stuporous haze, relentlessly quoting Buffalo 66 .

Meanwhile, the couple I went to see (500) Days of Summer with have since gotten engaged and moved to Hoboken. Im not sure what the moral is to this story, so take it however you will. Just be careful where you go after watching this movie.

Grade: C-

(500) Days soundtrack includes: The Smiths, Feist, Regina Spektor, Doves, Hall & Oates, Carla Bruni, Wolfmother, She & Him

Movie in which Zooey Deschanels eyes look the hugest: Almost Famous

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