(No longer in theaters)
Mark Waters, Jessica Tuchinsky, Mason Novick, Steven J. Wolfe
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Aug 7, 2009
Once upon a time, screenwriter Scott Neustadter fell for a remarkably attractive but commitment-averse woman and instantly decided she was the One—and he kept hope alive until she dumped him. He hasn’t gotten over it: The pain in (500) Days of Summer (written with Michael H. Weber) feels very raw. The movie, directed by Marc Webb, is told entirely from the point of view of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect earning a living concocting greeting-card platitudes while the love of his life, Summer (Zooey Deschanel, with her sexy-slurry delivery and electric-blue eyes), remains unreadable, unknowable, endlessly manipulative. Line by line, the script is clever, but it’s the syntax that kills. There’s a counter on the screen, and the movie leaps from day 259 to 1 to 154 and back and forth until we reach 500. Starting with the breakup means we see what Tom, in the moment, can’t: She’s trouble, and he’s an emotional ding-a-ling.
That slick Son–of–Charlie Kaufman stuff is enough to put (500) Days of Summer over, and Levitt—who moves groggily, as if he sleeps all day but never deeply—is an expert enough comedian to mope without killing the pace. There’s a neat dramatic coup when Tom and Summer play house in an Ikea store, and an ingenious split-screen sequence in which “Expectation” on the left gradually diverges from “Reality” on the right. But the film is, finally, a brilliant tap dance over a void: There’s no real drama when the inner life of the female lead is so shrouded, even if that’s the point. Compare (500) Days to the messed-up teen comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper, adapted by Larry Doyle from his rollicking novel. The latter film is ploddingly directed, but along the way the object of the nerd hero’s fantasies, Beth Cooper (a lovely performance by Hayden Panettiere), acquires more and more complexity. And three dimensions, however dim, are more enlivening than the sparkling two of (500) Days of Summer.