In its brightest moments, (500) Days Of Summer delves honestly and insightfully into the mysteries of love and romantic chemistry, and how elusive a connection can be. At its worst, the film is like 27 Dresses for indie types who prefer The Smiths to Bryan Adams; it isn’t much different than the cutesy rom-coms Hollywood traffics into theaters every other week. It goes down smoothly, thanks in large part to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s grounded lead performance and Marc Webb’s slick direction, but it seems like every other scene coughs up a dispiriting cliché—a goofy best friend, an adorably precocious pre-teen romantic adviser, or a greeting-card company from the land of Quirksville. Zach Braff’s Garden State may be the closest analog—both explicitly reference The Graduate, that touchstone of generational uncertainty—but (500) Days Of Summer is more thoughtful, and thus more maddening in its shortcomings.
The “Summer” of the title is Zooey Deschanel, a sunny but obscure object of desire whose pessimism about love and relationships is countered by Gordon-Levitt, who believes in a grander romantic destiny for himself. The two meet as workmates in a small greeting-card company and start dating, though Deschanel is reluctant to label them boyfriend/girlfriend, even when things have clearly gotten serious. Jumping freely around a 500-day timeline, the film examines the ups and downs of their relationship from Gordon-Levitt’s perspective, contrasting good days and bad while trying to figure out where things went wrong, and how they might be made right again.
(500) Days Of Summer’s free-flowing structure allows for a funny, pointed interplay between the sweet and sour states of the relationship, as well as a thoughtful deconstruction of how love flourishes and unravels. And a handful of sequences are standalone classics, like a Hall & Oates-fueled outpouring of post-coital bliss and a devastating split-screen that measures the expectations of a moment against its reality. So why did Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber need to keep in so many scenes that are merely cute for cute’s sake, like having an Abigail Breslin type dispensing wisdom, or tacking on third-person omniscient narration with the tone of a Pushing Daisies episode? The film winds up in a no-man’s land between Hollywood and something real.