The promotional material for "500 Days of Summer" seems determined to anoint it successor to "Garden State," but from first bang, "500 Days" is far funnier than Zach Braff's 2004 film.
The film situates the audience with a traditional disclaimer: "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." There's a pause, then this: "Especially you Jenny Beckman."
It continues to be funny from there. Failed architect Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in love with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) from the day they meet at the greeting card company where they both work. But Summer isn't quite in love with Tom. They get together anyway. Months later, they break up. All of this happens within five minutes. The rest of the movie jumps back and forth between specific days of the titular 500 days, as Tom tries to figure out why Summer doesn't love him.
Gordon-Levitt plays painfully awkward very well, the soundtrack is fantastic and, look, every girl has a friend like Summer or knows a guy who has destroyed himself over a girl like her: flirty and alluring, elusive and cold at times. It's definitely rewatchable.
There's one central, critical flaw, however: The film tells you next to nothing about Summer. Yes, she's a self-made mystery, purposefully crafting a wall to the world to prevent any pain, but all we know about Summer is that she likes Ringo Starr and "Dorian Gray." In fact, at one point, just as she announces she's never told anyone the story she's telling Tom, the narrator jumps in and interrupts her.
Maybe that's the point, that Tom idealizes her instead of understanding her, and that's why their relationship is doomed from the start. He tells his friends, "I'm in love with the way she makes me feel." Maybe Tom's love for Summer is as much about him as it is her, an insightful, if subtle, commentary on the emotional self-centeredness of Generation Y. Of course, it could also be lazy writing. "Summer's" ending, however, reinforces that Tom's love for Summer wasn't right from the start.
Despite these limitations, Deschanel lives up to the iconic mystery girl Tom thinks she is. She's charming, quietly matter-of-fact and she even gets to sing Nancy Sinatra's "Sugar Town." She's very pretty, of course. Director Marc Webb drenches scenes in ice and China blues to bring out her striking blue eyes to great effect.
Formerly a music video director, first-time director Webb uses stylized elements that get borderline gimmicky when they don't succeed, like the split-screen Expectations vs. Reality vision.
Still, there's awesome abounding in other sequences. The stillness that precedes Tom and Summer's first kiss ratchets up the tension to breaking point, and their actual games (playing house in IKEA, playing a dirty word game in a park) encompass the lightness and fun of their relationship. The highlight of the film comes after Tom's first night with Summer, with a musical sequence involving a geek movie icon, a Disney cartoon, Hall & Oates, and a Ferris Bueller dance number. Awesome.
It's not a perfect film, but parts of it are. It even demands a second crack to find out whether there's more revealed about Summer than appears.