There’s nothing in Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summerthat we didn’t get in more substantial form in better romantic, anti-romantic dramedies. It’s note of romantic pining bears echoes of Say Anything but it’s treatment of the therapeutic powers of love in an otherwise miserable, doubt-fraught existence was far more richly examined in Greg Mottola’s Adventureland. Granted Adventureland was a more serious-minded fare, and (500) Days is lighter and more fanciful venture, pepped up with tunes that comprise what could be the hipster-pop soundtrack of the year. Yet, for all its heart-on-its-sleeve good intentions, the script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber simply doesn’t offer up a deep, searching treatment of sexual infatuation, the fickleness of romance, and the mysteries of love with anything like compelling, lasting impact.
Webb’s movie is a goofy send-up on said themes while meaning to be, off-handedly, something much more as it follows Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect who’s now slumming as a greeting-card writer, and his efforts to woo and win the love of his co-worker, the ethereally pretty Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Brooding, serious and sincere, Tom is the temperamental opposite to the easy-breezy Summer, who’s allergic to commitment and enamored of whimsy and the spontaneous romantic impulse. This makes Summer an easy person to get intrigued by, but a hard person to care about in the long run. As a character, she’s as light and wispy as, well, a summer breeze, and aptly fits Film Critic Nathan Rubin’s template of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl; Summer exists solely to light Tom’s fire, excite his soul, redeem his believe in love and himself, but, as someone independent of those functions, she’s a cipher, an exasperating blank — a woman who says she doesn’t care for commitment until the script requires her to do so.
Deschanel, with her dreamy eyes and lilting delivery, makes for the perfect MPDG muse for the lovelorn, tortured artist, enjoyably played by the hotly talented Gordon-Levitt, who’s now spent almost a decade developing impeccable cred in the American indie and non-mainstream circuit. Gordon-Levitt is the sole reason this sweet but feathery affair assumes any gravity at all — he lends a soulful credibility to a film generally populated by cut-outs and cliches. Among the latter are Tom’s two longtime sidekicks, McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) — who stand in, respectively, for the Sad Sack Who’s Never Had a Girlfriend and for The Lifer with the Same Girlfriend Since Forever. They stand at the polar ends of the “modern love” spectrum on which Tom slides tenuously back an d forth. But, like Summer, they’re simply functionaries in a story built like a music box: pretty and pleasing to listen to, but all cogs and gears within.
Another of (500) Days’ good intentions is to vindicate the aesthetic reputation of Los Angeles, a city that gets short-shrift as an eyesore too often in popular culture. By way of Tom’s love of downtown L.A. (where he lives, in a spacious loft), Webb wants to fashion a tender valentine to the architectural splendors of his city. For L.A. lovers like myself, this is a noble and much-needed gesture, and the scenes in which Tom fills Summer (and the rest of us) in on the history and design of the city’s heritage skyscrapers are genuinely sweet. But the city fails to become an organic part of this story; it rather remains an entity separate and apart from the central action, something characters have to remember to stare at, acknowledge and adore. As a result, Webb’s Los Angeles setting becomes simply the gilt framing for a lovely postcard picture of what is a nicely played but all-too-preciously eccentric romance.
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Chloe Moretz