Movie News & Reviews

Most risks pay off in '(500) Days of Summer'

You don't get a lot of romances told from the dude's perspective, butthen again we males are emotional redoubts who would never ever dosomething like write a song about a girl or drink whiskey with thelights off thinking about how we screwed up or any of those thingsother, wimpier genders do when they're heartbroken.

Little-known fact, but "Dante Alighieri" was actually the pen name ofsome old-time lady busted up over her ex-boyfriend Burt. It's morewidely understood that every mopey pop song isn't an honest expressionof feelings but is rather a cunning ploy to get laid. All thosepaperback romances? Written by women, except all the ones secretlywritten by men because people don't like reading a a romance novelwith a guy's name on the cover.

So to see (500) Days of Summer profess to be about arelationship from a male point of view is a little exciting, and notjust because it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for whom my good feelingsare not entirely professional. It's a chance for the film to dosomething special — or fail especially hard.

Gordon-Levitt believes in true love, but isn't so sure how to achieveit. He's intrigued by Zooey Deschanel the moment she starts working attheir greeting card office, but it isn't until they share a momentover a Smiths song that he decides to run up the colors and attempt toboard her.

Thing is, she thinks love is an illusion; she'll date, but only if itscasual. After a while, Gordon-Levitt's need for something more startsto strain whatever it is they have together.

Briefly, because I hate saying anything good about anyone or anything,I want to give the local Carmike a silent but props-filled nod ofapproval. I don't know a lot about the decisions that go into whatends up playing where, but when it comes to smaller releases, moviesthat might not necessarily make it to the Tri-Cities, it feels like alot of them end up passing through Carmike screens. If that's adeliberate priority, then I say keep up the good work, because it getsus pretty awesome stuff like (500) Days of Summer.

(500) Days is an indie movie, which these days is almost asmuch about the way its story is told ("quirky" and "whimsical" getused a lot to describe this subgenre) as it is about the size of itsbudget and how many screens it's on. Director Marc Webb and first-timescreenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber do some of thatindie business here: there's a third-person narrator, a chopped-upchronology, the odd fantasy sequence, a bunch of minor stylistictricks that aren't necessary but are usually fun.

What makes it work even when it doesn't is that they never put thosequirky conceits over the truth of the story. It's implied thatGordon-Levitt's relationship is drawn from the filmmakers' lives, andI can believe it. The details are personal but honest, not alwaysflattering, a vivid picture of a young man struggling to keep his headin rough emotional waters.

As for Deschanel's character, she's got that skittish oddball thinggoing, but not in the way critic Nathan Rabin has dubbed the "manicpixie dream-girl." She isn't like slapping Gordon-Levitt with trout inhis sleep or crafting him love notes out of rhinestones and beefhearts. (Incidentally, that is my plan to win him over just so I canhave him act on my porch all day, so if I hear that's how any of yougo after him, you and me are going to exchange brutalities.) Herbehavior is as painful as it is endearing, straining their relationshipin ways it's easy to identify with.

Not every part of (500) Days is that successful. A few of itsnarrative tricks get disruptively intrusive, and the unrealisticmoments stick out sorely (notably Gordon-Levitt's absurdly precociousyounger sister, who comes off more like a chain-smokingmultiple-divorcee who dropped out of a psychology program rather than like a9-year-old child).

But that means it's taking risks, and most of those risks pay off.(500) Days is funny and heartfelt and made all the rightcasting choices. Neither its director nor its writers had much totheir credit before this, but one movie later they're names to watchout for.

Grade: B+

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