The title of the quirky rom-com (500) Days of Summer contains two signs of its compulsive twee-ness. “Summer” refers not to a season but a young woman, played by Zooey Deschanel, and those parentheses foreshadow the film’s unifying narrative gimmick. The film cuts back and forth between key moments of the 500 days of Summer’s relationship with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), from their first meeting to the point at which he finally gets over her.
Tom first notices Summer when they’re co-workers at the same greeting card company (although he’d rather be an architect). Her beauty and free-spirited ways entice him almost immediately, but even after they start dating and sleeping together, she maintains more emotional distance. Even though Tom falls in love, Summer claims not to believe in deep romantic attachments. During a low ebb of their couplehood, Summer compares them to Sid and Nancy – and she’s Sid Vicious. Gordon-Levitt’s deadpan, soft-eyed performance cultivates sympathy while grounding some of the film’s whimsy. He’s one of the most interesting under-actors of his generation, making the most of a minimalist style, like he’s a student of Bill Murray’s contemporary work.
(500) Days of Summer offers a fresh counteragent to the vast majority of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter romantic comedies. You may have more appreciation for the film if you’ve never seen Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall, which also traces the arc of a love affair through scrambled chronology and playful vignettes. One of the film’s best scenes uses a split-screen to compare Tom’s sunny expectations for a party on one side with the dispiriting realities on the other. Some of the larky sequences display cleverness and energy, such as Tom’s impromptu musical number the morning after he first hooks up with Summer. Overall, though, they keep the film on a sketchy, superficial level, rather than revealing insights into relationships.
Summer would be on stronger ground if it offered a strong female perspective to balance Tom. Deschanel may play Summer’s remote qualities a little too well. A montage about the inspirational effects of her beauty says less about Summer than how others respond to her, while a late plot twist arguably betrays the character’s consistency. The only other major female character is played as a running joke, with Tom’s kid sister (Atlanta’s Chloe Moretz) playing the role of a pint-sized consigliere. One of Tom’s best friends has a lifelong girlfriend, but she never even appears in the film. Even the narrator has a deep, masculine voice, like the voice-over for a prescription medication commercial.
(500) Days of Summer opens with a sexist jab that’s meant to be ironic, but rings a little too sincere. If Deschanel’s Summer is based on a real woman, one gets the impression that the filmmaker still has hard feelings.