500 Days of Summer: Marc Webb’s Offbeat Directing Debut, Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschnael

Offbeat and original, “500 Days of Summer,” Marc Webb’s extremely appealing feature directing debut, is a serio comedy told consistently from the point of view of a helplessly romantic guy.  A wry, probing, witty narration dissects an unpredictable year-and-a-half of one young man’s no-holds-barred love affair. 


The twist is that, even in this cynical modern world, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) still believes in the notion of a transforming, shattering lightning-strikes-once kind of love, Problem is, his intelligent and witty girlfriend Summer Finn (Zoey Deschanel) does not.  And so, unfazed, Tom goes after her again and again like a modern Don Quixote.  In fact, Tom seems to be in love not only with Summer but with the idea of Summer, or rather the idea that love still has the power to stop the world, literally. 


The saga begins on Day 1, when Tom, a would-be architect turned greeting-card writer, encounters Summer, his boss’s breezy and beautiful new secretary, fresh off the plane from Michigan.  Though seemingly out of his league, Tom soon discovers that he shares plenty in common with Summer.  As Tom muses, “We’re compatible like crazy.” Indeed, they both love The Smiths, they both admire the surrealist artist Magritte, and so on.   


By Day 31, things are moving ahead, casually, and by Day 32, Tom is all smitten, living in a giddy, fantastical world.   However, by Day 185, things are in limbo, but still not hopeless.  Reversing societal and movie norms about how the genders are supposed to react to and behave when they are in love, in this picture, it’s Summer who says, “Relationships are messy and feelings get hurt.  Who needs all that?  We’re young.  We’re in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.  I say let’s have as much fun as we can.”


Though structured along days, the story is nonlinear and doesn’t follow a chronological order, instead zigzagging or winding backwards and forwards through Tom and Summer’s on-again, off-again relationship.  Sometimes blissful, but more often tumultuous, the dalliance covers the whole range of emotions, from initial infatuation, to first dating and first sex, to separation, recrimination and redemption.  These feelings are conveyed through various devices, time jumps, split screens, karaoke numbers, and cinematic verve that would do the French New Wave proud. 


Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, who co-penned the script, make a huge leap forward from their high concept and vapid Steve Martin vehicle, “Pink Panther 2,” constructing a relationship that’s at once artful and truthful, literal and allegorical.  Looking at things from a strictly male perspective, they raise universal questions, such as, Is there really such a thing as “the one?” And, if there is, what happens if you lose your girl? Can you still believe in love?  Do your beliefs about love change forever? 


Self-reflexive and self-analytical in the manner of many American comedic heroes ever since Woody Allen’s protags of the 1970s, Tom characteristically says, “I think the key is for me to figure out what went wrong.  Do you ever do this? Go back and think about all the things you did together.  Everything that happened. Replay it over again in your mind, looking for the first sign of trouble.”


The scenario contains so many sharply observed ideas that you forgive the tendency of the filmmakers to elevate love to the symbolic or metaphoric level, and concentrate on their signaling of how love can be cruel, harsh and difficult, but also the most intense and exhilarating feeling life has to offer. 


Casting the leads with non-stars (or no-name actors) is a major plus for such a tale.  Gordon-Levitt is good as the love-addled, mood-clouded Tom, a man who writes pithy romantic sayings for others yet can’t seem to communicate the overpowering depth of his own feelings to the only woman who matters to him:  the elusive Summer. 


But the chronicle really belongs to Zooey Deschnael, who doesn’t make one wrong move as the bright, unattainable femme.  Deschanel has appeared as the lead in indies films, but in mainstream Hollywood fare she is often relegated to secondary roles–despite her beauty and alert intelligence that recall the young Deborah Winger. 

The film’s visual style stems directly from Tom’s subjective world, reflecting his inner experiences of falling in love and fighting to stay in love.  It is conveyed and sustained through dream sequences, musical numbers, cartoon birds, and tributes to the lyrical melancholy of French films of yesteryear.