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Monday, July 20, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Love and fate in Manhattan

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The Smiths were a band offering cold comfort to the lovelorn, and a relationship begun out of shared admiration for Morrissey's morose reflections on emotional failure is surely born under the sign of doom. And "relationship," that weasel word meaning everything or nothing at all, is the best description for what transpires between Tom and Summer in (500) Days of Summer. Brought together during an elevator ride by a Smiths song, the 20-somethings work in a greeting card company, producing off-the-rack prose for people afraid to express themselves. It's a perfect job for Tom, who gets tongue-tied when it comes to his intentions. And with Summer, his tongue is in knots. How can you profess love to someone who claims not to believe in love?

The paradoxes and dilemmas of love and fate are integral to (500) Days of Summer, a sharp comedy of crossed emotions suffused with the melancholy of loneliness and a daffy, beautiful vision of Manhattan updated from Woody Allen's sketchbook. Disheveled Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), seemingly casual in his Joy Division T-shirt, is old-fashioned on the subject of love. He knows his soul mate is waiting somewhere over a rainbow bridge of dreams colored by British rock and Hollywood movies. Summer (Zooey Deschanel), although neat and orderly as a tea shop, refuses to be tied down by commitments and emotions.

And so their relationship goes, fits and starts and all. Enhancing the breezily ironic tone of Scott Neustadter's screenplay is director Marc Webb's deft arrangement of (500) Days as a set of Tom's flashbacks, shuffled back and forth across time in seemingly random flashes of memories painful and pleasant. The story is organized in much the same way that we remember our past.

Hand-holding on the crowded Manhattan streets and long afternoons of cuddling in bed are transposed with scenes of sulking angst. In a charming episode, Tom and Summer play house in an IKEA store, playacting their roles as a middle-class couple. "Oooooh, 'Idol!'" she exclaims in mock interest, pretending to point the remote from their expensive love seat. The climactic drop-dead scene, cinematically and emotionally, is filmed in split screens labeled "Expectation" and "Reality." In Expectation, the romance movie in Tom's mind unfolds as he enters a party at Summer's apartment. Reality juxtaposes the painful realization that he is not her soul mate; she sees him as a kind of best friend.

(500) Days of Summeris a coming-of-age story dressed up as a romantic comedy. Tom, with an architecture degree in a world with too few jobs for architects, is marking time at a dead-end job he secretly despises, and Summer, the product of divorced parents, blithely treadmills through an existence without commitment, fearing that love is a trap. A richer reality beckons for both of them.
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