Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy fights with girl. Boy and girl make up with a grand gesture and live happily ever after.
Such is the set-up for most romantic movies. “(500) Days of Summer” is not one of those, with Marc Webb’s touching film breaking the mold wherever possible.
More closely resembling “Memento” than “The Holiday,” “(500) Days” jumps around between various days in the relationship, showing the audience both the aww-inducing moments and painful fights.
“(500) Days of Summer” follows Tom Hansen (the engrossingly goofy Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twenty-something, Smiths-loving, greeting card writer, and the ups and downs of his relationship with Summer Finn (the irresistible Zooey Deschanel), a quirky, retro-dressing receptionist. The glimpses Webb shows are not all monumental moments; some merely illustrate the dynamics of the relationship, for instance, a cutesy play date at IKEA.
The problem with the relationship resides in Summer’s yearning to be an independent woman who doesn’t need to be defined by a man, and Tom’s total infatuation with her, easily blown over by every laugh, smile, and breath she takes. Summer craves to keep things casual, while Tom believes she is everything he has ever dreamt of and more.
The film opens with a message from writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, calling out the former flame who served as the movie’s inspiration, followed by a voice-over sounding like a less-powerful Morgan Freeman, immediately forewarning of the heartbreak to follow.
Besides the unconventional arrangement, the film overflows with originality, from its witty yet realistic dialogue to using a split screen to compare Tom’s expectations with reality. It also pays homage to the cheesiness of other romantic films, complete with a dance number and an animated bird.
The beauty in the film lays in the implicit moments, where Webb lets the mind wander, instead of spelling everything out for the viewer, even piecing the break-up together like a puzzle. While the sadness is inevitable, it is the moments in between the pure bliss and disaster that make the film worthwhile.
There are two cliches in the film, however – the wise-beyond-her-years younger sister of Tom, and the neatly packaged ending. Both are forgiven, though, as the sister seems endearingly real and the ending is adorable.
The characters are so authentic, it is like watching the relationship of your two friends rise and fall in front of your eyes. Even with knowledge of the ending, the chemistry between the two is so enchanting, it is easy to hope the breakup was purely misleading and the two will ride off into the sunset.
The film is taken to another level by the superb acting of Deschanel and Gordon- Levitt. Deschanel is charming and alluring. She retains her likability, even when serving as the resident heartbreaker, and it’s no wonder that he could become so enamored by her with just the blink of an eye.
Gordon-Levitt, much matured from his nerdy loner role on “10 Things I Hate about You,” wears his heart on his sleeve so beautifully, capturing every feeling of heartache and happiness flawlessly. His torment is believable, never over-the-top, and his rapture leaves the audience wanting to be in love just like him.
The inventive film evokes a wide array of emotions, pushing the limits much further than a typical romantic comedy, and every one of them hits right where it should – the heart.