Thursday, August 27, 2009

492 - 500 Days of Summer review

Summer is a girl you’ve met. She’s bubbly and effervescent, endlessly pretty and slightly beautiful, the loveliest poison you ever tasted. Summer’s the girl of your dreams, but you should hope that she stays there.

“500 Days of Summer” is a jolt of wonderful, a film constructed from heartfelt feelings and emotion. So many films claim to be about love, but they’re really about cultural and emotional fabrication. This film really is about love, how it entails dizzying highs and searing lows. “500 Days of Summer” is the antithesis of the movies it subtly savages, a rebuke to sugary cinematic fairytales that treat romance as an excuse to sell tickets and valentines. In other words, this is the real thing.

The story’s hero is Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architect who writes greeting cards out of apathy. We’re told by the narrator that his saccharine views on romance are the result of a childhood misreading of “The Graduate,” a statement that cleverly says it all to those familiar with that film. He falls head-over-heels in love with Summer, is played by Zooey Deschanel, who usurps Natalie Portman as mainstream cinema’s most adorable girl (and she’s a better actress, too).

Summer, who were are shown is responsible for a huge number of double-takes among men, is frustratingly hard to get at first, not so much because of her elusiveness, but because of Tom’s indecisiveness. When it finally happens, words can’t describe the elation, but images can. Ever fallen in love and been ecstatic about it? This film gets it right.

Jumping through chronological hoops, we catch glimpses of their relationship various points. It’s a story that could be told in order, but writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are on to a poignant truth: the reflected stories of our lives don’t play in order, but as a series of memories dotting the landscape of the mind. Tom doesn’t just remember Summer as a series of conversations and sexual encounters, but as a collection of images and sensations.

Deschanel is a sort of delayed revelation, her performance flawlessly hitting a series of notes that make us swoon over Summer even as her flaws are visible through her transparent demeanor. After years of high-profile yet thankless roles in big films, here she is allowed to give a performance that establishes her as one of the actresses to watch, if not the actress. Even as Summer wreaks havoc on our hero, Deschanel still allows us to swoon for her, to comprehend why losing her would be so devastating even as it’s necessary.

And how about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who jumped from child actor to mainstream star? He’s not quite a household name yet, but the potential is there: he’s taking starring roles in films ranging from the high school neo-noir “Brick” to macrabe drama “Mysterious Skin” to big budget cartoons like “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” Here he’s masterful as a sensitive soul riding a wave of joy only to crash into a wall of heartbreak. Observe the brilliant scene where Tom’s expectations contrast vividly with an unfolding reality, and see a marvelous bit of acting as something even worse than mere disappointment sets in.

The great wonder of “500 Days of Summer” is that it dares to see what happens when you take two unique individuals and see what happens without concern for a score. It refuses to engage in the trivial games of mainstream cinema that sees insincere dilemmas and actions trump honesty and personal engagement. Summer and Tom are fully realized characters whose trials and triumphs are born of their chemistry. Its moments are enthralling, the humor and heartbreak rich, the surface and core electric. It’s possibly the best film of the summer.

5 out of 5

1 comment:

Heidi said...

While agree with some of your review, the main problem I have with this movie is how ultimately forgettable it is.

Every generation has their quirky romance movie, my generation has "Reality Bites." Maybe this will be the one for 20-year-olds out there, but it just didn't do it for me.

I'd actually completely forgotten that I'd seen it until I saw your review here!