The unnecessary parentheses in the movie's title are the first sign that (500) Days of Summer might be too cute and contrived for its own good. Often, it is: the female lead (played by Zooey Deschanel) is named Summer, the wardrobes and apartments are impossibly hip, and shopping at Ikea acts as a relationship milestone. I'm willing to forgive much of that, however, because despite its overly indie constructs, (500) Days of Summer captures many achingly real sentiments. Like the relationship it chronicles, the movie is full of ups and downs but ultimately worthwhile.
The basic conceit is cool: from the beginning, we know the relationship between Summer and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ends. We find out how it starts and what goes wrong through glimpses at unordered days, from an office karaoke party to a snippy exchange at a record store.
(500) Days of Summer feels like the work of a newbie director (which it is) who is excited to use all of his brainstorms right away. The movie features random fantasy sequences, French film homages, dueling outcomes told via split screen, and even a dance number, which I'll admit is pretty funny. But the net effect is heavy-handed: I mean, the couple debates the possibility of true love while working at a greeting card company.
Thankfully, the moments of fantasy and sappiness are balanced by large doses of reality and cynicism. The script perfectly captures the bliss and awkward formality of a budding relationship but also the post-breakup realization that it might not be you, or him, but actually the two of you together that simply doesn't work. As Tom's unnaturally wise tween sister points out, just because Summer likes the same "bizarro crap" as him doesn't make them soulmates.
Upping the authenticity are the performances but especially that of Gordon-Levitt, who is lovable like a modern, more ambitious Lloyd Dobler. He and Deschanel are so natural together, it's a shame the overly precious script can't relax a little too.
Photos courtesy Fox Searchlight