500 Days of Summer

Finally a movie that’s fun and sweet and so skillfully made that I can say without a doubt that everyone will love it as much as I do. I don’t have enough positive adjectives in my repertoire to even begin to describe how terrific this little film is.

After a year of so-called funny movies that aren’t funny (Bruno, Funny People, Whatever Works) and romances that aren’t romantic (The Ugly Truth), this indie film, 500 Days of Summer, arrives like a welcome zephyr. The voice-over narrator solemnly warns us that this is a not a love story, but that of course isn’t true. It is a love story, it just doesn’t end the way normal love stories do. It ends more like real life. And so it’s a life story, too.

What’s so amazing about 500 Days of Summer is that the three main creators of it, director Marc Webb and co-writers Scott Neustatder and Michael H. Webber, seem to have come out of nowhere. It’s the director’s first feature film (he’s done music videos) and the only other on-the-job training for the writers is a shared credit with Steve Martin on Pink Panther 2. The first question is who are these guys? The second is–when can we see their next movie?

Downtown Los Angeles. Dozens of little-known architectural wonders and urban hideaways that only long-term residents know about. Equally surprising, there’s not an out of work actor in sight. In this Los Angeles, people live normal lives. For the past few years, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Lookout) has been toiling away in a cubicle writing texts for a venerable greeting card company. He was trained to be an architect, though, and always amuses himself by sketching buildings, but, well, a job’s a job. Yeah, sure. It’s not the only lie he manages to tell himself.

Though love is always on Tom’s mind, he hasn’t done much about it and he doesn’t get much practical advice from his buddies. His cube-mate is McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend, TV’s Trust Me) a karaoke-challenged, beer guzzling dude always looking for women who won’t give him a second glance because he’s socially deficient as well. Their friend is Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler, TV’s Criminal Minds), a gentle sweetie with great cheekbones who’s been going with the same girl since the fourth grade. What can these guys possibly contribute to Tom’s yearnings to find the woman of his dreams?

Then, supposedly, she walks into the office. Raven-haired, blue-eyed Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, The Happening), newly arrived in town and just hired as the boss’s assistant, only a few desks down the cubicle row and often by herself in the Xerox room. She likes the same music Tom does (The Smith’s) and the same movies and she lives nearby and wonder of all wonders, she likes Tom, she likes him a lot.

Summer is very careful to not say she loves Tom, and to indicate upfront that she doesn’t want a long-term relationship–Tom is, after all, and this point is often overlooked by men who think Summer is a monster, working as a greeting card writer when he could be pursuing a career as an architect. But Summer doesn’t run away from Tom either. He is cute. And convenient. And well, why not? They start a relationship that makes Tom walk on air (or dance in the streets in one of the movie’s cutest sequences) and makes Summer smile.

“It’s official,” Tom announces. “I’m in love with Summer!” Alas, he thinks an announcement is a permanent truth. Skipping around in time, from the moment he first spies her, to the moment they say goodbye on a park bench overlooking the city, the 500 days of Tom’s relationship with Summer is played out in the movie. As you’ll notice quickly, in Tom’s memory, every scene is colored to emphasize Summer’s wonderful blue eyes. The clothes she wears, all her accessories, the walls around her, everything else in the world serves as a reminder of the eyes he drowned in.

Part of the charm of 500 Days of Summer, is its scatter-shot time sequencing–as Tom rehashes the relationship with Summer, he sees its episodes as he first experienced them, then as he remembers them (two sometimes totally difference experiences), and finally, with the kind of insight that only time can bring, as they might really have happened from Summer’s perspective. Sometimes we see on split screen what really happened and what Tom wanted to happen–two unconnected scenarios. It’s the details he doesn’t notice in the big picture of his all-consuming love. He thinks he’s being insightful–she’s bored. He demands official couple status. She reminds him she never promised him a commitment.

The result is that, like Tom, as you watch the movie, you replay all your own love relationships, particularly those that still break your heart, the ones where he (or she) wasn’t as in to you as you were into them. Ah, love’s joy! Its misery. Life is wonderful. Woe is me. He’s the most wonderful person in the world. I hate that creep! He’s so handsome. He’s repulsive. He’s smart and sensitive. What a selfish jerk! You get the idea…

As painful as the story is at times, it’s also hilarious. The first time I really laughed in a movie all year. And so did my friends who saw it with me. Is it funny because our own unrequited loves (thank God!) were in the distant past? Or is it, more likely, because the actors are so wonderful and the script so perceptive that the story is as real to us as our own stories.

When the relationship is in the dumps and Tom is smashing crockery, his friends don’t know what to do. Survivor tips come from his little sister, Rachel Hansen (Chloe Moretz, TV’s Dirty Sexy Money), who plays the best Wise Woman role I’ve seen in years. She’s so natural that you might not notice how good she is, so I’m urging you to pay her special attention.

In the end, like all muses, when Summer is not breaking Tom’s heart, she’s helping him become more of himself. Was that her true destiny from the beginning? Is that why fate brought them together? Will Summer really be happy wearing a diamond from some other man? Will Tom ever get out of the greeting card business and put his architectural sketches into a real leather-bound portfolio?

Take your friends and run to see 500 Days of Summer.

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