*(500) Days of Summer (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Movies, generally, are not particularly introspective about the building blocks of romantic relationships. And (500) Days of Summer is the kind of independent romantic comedy that, at first glance, might seem like it's going to be insufferable.
Director Marc Webb, a 1996 Colorado College graduate and a guy better known for music videos, trots out more than a few visual quirks. The very premise — following the arc of a relationship out of chronological order — seems fraught with gimmicky dangers. But no matter how goofy the film gets at individual moments, it becomes fairly irresistible for one simple reason: When it comes to understanding heartbreak and the roles of our different relationships, it's almost painfully wise.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom, a romantic soul writing platitudes for a Los Angeles greeting-card company, despite being educated as an architect. Into his life steps his boss' assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), inspiring an instant infatuation. She's cute! She digs the Smiths! She's the kind of girl who makes shopping at IKEA delightful! So what if she claims she doesn't believe in love?
The opening narration makes it clear that our lovebirds will not have a happily-ever-after; it flips to Tom and Summer's breakup before we even begin to think of them as a couple. And while swinging between their happy couplehood and Tom's despair might have come off as an unnecessary contrivance, breaking the story this way allows Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to build a thematic framework: the notion that most people think of their relationships in those bits and pieces.
And many of those bits and pieces are simply glorious. One hilarious montage finds a blissed-out Tom flitting around the office, solving creative blocks with pithy heartfelt sentiments; another sequence turns the morning after Tom and Summer's first sexual encounter into a fully choreographed production number set to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams." And if you're not won over at the outset by the brilliantly bitter opening "disclaimer," you're a hard audience to please.
But as charming as (500) Days of Summer may be when it's funny, it's even better when it's poignant. Gordon-Levitt continues to prove himself as a young actor with an impressive range, and he's wonderful as a guy immersed in every emotional moment. Deschanel might actually have an even tougher challenge, as she works to sell Summer's commitment issues without turning her into an ice queen. Together, they find a perfect pitch for two achingly wonderful late scenes: the wedding of a mutual friend at which they reconnect; and a party that splits the screen between an outcome Tom hopes for, and what actually transpires.
It's in these moments that (500) Days of Summer turns damn-near profound. Most romantic comedies deal with the wacky complications of winding up with The One; this one takes on the tougher task of understanding The One That Got Away and the fact that lasting romantic happiness probably never comes without first surviving a few deep battle scars.
It's a bit of a shame that Webb and company overplay the quirky at times. They give Tom a wise-beyond-her-years pre-teen sister (Chloe Moretz), a jerky best friend (Geoffrey Arend), and a vaguely oblivious boss (Clark Gregg). Still, (500) Days of Summer manages to be both uproarious and wistful by doing what those other romantic comedies so rarely do: telling the truth.