Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: '500 Days of Summer' (B+)

By Chase Kahn

Marc Webb's directorial debut is a souped-up, revved and ready whirlwind of an anti-romantic comedy. It has the usual trappings of a Fox Searchlight hipster-independent style trip -- complete with hand-drawn title screens, a precarious, self-conscious narrator and characters who like The Smiths and look like Urban Outfitters employees. But the truth is, under all that gloss and detailing, it's an extremely attentive, perceptive and insightful examination -- very well-acted, amusing, sad, and occasionally flat-out brilliant.

Tom (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) doesn't really know it, but he's a romantic. He works at a card company writing cheap slogans about love and is adamantly positive that his soulmate, his one true love, is waiting for him. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is an instinctive, unconcerned and passively singular soul -- someone unafraid to strike up a conversation but ultimately dismissive and indifferent to the notion of love. So the two meet.

At the beginning of the film, we are told precisely that this is not a love story. 500 Days of Summer is more interested in the ambiguity, crossed signals and false hopes of young love. It's a keenly observed and reenacted tale, told like any past love -- with the good and bad -- sometimes all at once.

The other great thing about it is that, in taking this approach (that is, a more cautionary story about love with minimal gush and convention), the film is excitingly free of the predictable. There are no make-up scenes in public places like an airport, place of work or coffee shop, no awkward dinners with parents hightened by the presence of film cameras. It's 100% free of comfort-food, six-pack abs, "send the women home happy" bullshit.

These characters (especially Tom's two unsavvy lover friends and his consulting younger sister) may be portrayed occasionally by Marc Webb as larger than life, but this romance -- or lack their of -- is as live, real and pinned-down as tough love gets.

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