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Josh Reviews (500) Days of Summer

September 9th, 2009

Romantic comedies are not really my thing.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy movies that deal with romance.  I often say that When Harry Met Sally is one of my three very favorite films (along with The Godfather and The Empire Strikes Back, if you must know).  It’s just that I have a strong dislike of the silly Hollywood boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-are-separated-by-some-ridiculous-misunderstanding-or-other-comic-or-dramatic-obstacle, boy-and-girl-work-everything-out-and-live-happily-ever-after type of movie.  Yech.

Luckily, there’s none of that unpleasantness to be found in the absolutely delightful new film, (500) Days of Summer.  This film has been getting a lot of favorable press since it’s release, and rightfully so.

The film focuses on a love-affair, between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the fact that this is the same actor who also played Cobra Commander in the recent big, loud, and dumb G.I. Joe movie is astounding) and Summer (the beguiling Zooey Deschannel).  But right from the opening voice-over, the film is clear: “this is not a love story.”  Thank heaven.  While (500) Days of Summer deals with matters of the heart, the film stays well clear of schmaltz.

In many ways, (500) Days of Summer reminds me a lot of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  (That is high praise from me, as Annie Hall is a masterpiece and, while it not be among my top 3 favorite films, it’s definitely in the top 10!)  Both films deal with the ups and down of a relationship, balancing comedy and drama from moment to moment.  But what really drew the connection, in my mind, is the gleeful playfulness both films have with the structure of their narrative.

As you probably know, (500) Days of Summer isn’t structured chronologically — it jumps back and forth throughout the 500 days of Tom and Summer’s relationship.  This is a clever device, and one that is well-handled by the filmmakers.  The jumps in time aren’t at all confusing and, in fact, they help draw connections between different moments to illuminate the goings-on (for either comic or dramatic effect).  But it’s as if the filmmakers, once they decided not to us a simple chronological structure, felt emboldened to have all sorts of other fun with the narrative.  Suddenly there’s a voice-over.  Suddenly the characters are all looking into camera to describe their true love.  Etc. etc.  Again, this compares very favorably, in my mind, to the free-wheeling structure of Annie Hall, in which suddenly, in one scene, we can read the characters’ thoughts in sub-titles at the bottom of the screen, or there’s suddenly a split-screen showing the differences between dinner at the Singer and Hall households, or Woody can suddenly bring in the real Marshall McLuhan to settle a debate.

Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschannel are quite terrific in their roles.  Both are extremely affable, yet not afraid to show their characters’ flaws.  Both are able to carry the comic and dramatic weight expected of them as the leads in a film of this kind, while also both able to still portray the type of “boy next door” and “girl next door” types that gives the film its universality.

(500) Days of Summer is an innovative, sweet film, and well worth your time.  Boy, after a depressingly mediocre summer of movies (in which I sat through poor-to-terrible films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Terminator: Salvation, Year One, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), my faith in movies has been somewhat restored after enjoying Inglourious Basterds, District 9, and now (500) Days of Summer over the past two weeks.  Thank goodness!!

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