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Broken by a Word That Somebody Left Unspoken

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures

The romantic comedy genre has long been a form of escapism for women either scorned or disgusted by men. They don't call them "chick flicks" for nothing. Aside from the film's dud-to-stud prince charming, a romantic comedy's guy population is a Murderers' Row full of playboys and Mr. Wrongs – and, of course, Matthew McConaughey. So it requires little explanation as to why most men would rather read "Twilight" than voluntary see a chick flick. First-time director Marc Webb's enchanting "(500) Days of Summer" is the exception. This time, it's the guy who has to cope with a heart-stringing woman, a role reversal that could have turned into a one-note punchline. Anchored by a totally-game performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer" hits all the right notes. Funny, energetic and – most importantly – believable, the film should be mandated viewing for ladies convinced that guys "just don't understand."

Mr. Gordon-Levitt stars as Tom Hanson, an overly sensitive good guy who writes greeting cards for a living, the perfect job for somebody who wears his heart on his forehead – forget the sleeve. Hopelessly searching for "the one," he believes that he's found her in Summer (Zooey Deschanel), his boss's attractive new assistant. While Tom unconsciously puts his feelings on front street, Summer hesitantly displays her's in the back corner of a long, dark alley. Over 500 emotional seesaws of days – sequenced out of order in an unconventional but tightly focused script – head-over-heels Tom and resistant Summer embark on an unbalanced tour of tough love.

"(500) Days of Summer" isn't fall-out-of-your-seat funny, but its unassuming sense of humor is impressively consistent. None of the film's humor would connect on such a genuine level, though, if it weren't for the film's two leads. In Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Ms. Deschanel, Mr. Webb has two of the most gifted and overlooked talents in the business. Essentially, they're each other's counterpart; both have a crop of dynamite turns in little films on their respective stat sheets, and they've each ventured into the mainstream with mixed results (the jury is still out on Mr. Gordon-Levitt's venture into the mainstream, next month's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," although it's not too promising; Ms. Deschanel, however, has the abysmal "The Happening" to atone for). "(500) Days of Summer" is a spot-on project for the two to finally converge, and it shows in their chemistry.

There's a refreshing playfulness at work in "(500) Days of Summer," namely in the ways that Mr. Webb finds experimental methods to deliver otherwise routine rom-com moments. In his most depressed break-up state, Tom takes a solo trip to the movies, sinking deep into his seat as the rest of the ticket buyers enjoy themselves in the background. Instead of delivering the expected Tom-cries-in-his-seat scene, though, Mr. Webb thrusts Mr. Gordon-Levitt into a clever montage of old French cinema, faux silent films that beat the heartbreak over his tear-soaked head.

The story's beats are for the most part familiar, a common problem suffered by the romantic comedy genre as a whole. And if presented in a generic and linear package, this could have been a fitting vehicle for Ben Stiller (not a compliment); in fact, the dynamic between "(500) Days of Summer's" leads is similar to that of "Along Came Polly's" Mr. Stiller-Jennifer Aniston interplay. Under Mr. Webb's free-spirited control, fortunately, the film feels like wake-up call. Despite that, though, "(500) Days of Summer's" rom-com limitations prevent it from completely reinventing the wheel. Taken as nothing more than a harmless, entertaining cinematic hug for any guy who's managed to bounce back from heartache, the film is foolproof.

It's tough to dislike a film that pulls off a potentially hokey dancing-in-the-park sequence, with Mr. Gordon-Levitt's character having just had sex with Summer for the first time, leading a crowd of strangers in a choreographed number straight out of "Singin' in the Rain." The urge to cringe is inevitable at first, but it's erased once Mr. Gordon-Levitt winks at himself in a car window, his reflection being Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Such unpretentious creativity is ultimately "(500) Days of Summer's" saving grace – charming even though it's predominantly anti-love.


Opens on July 17 in the United States and on Sept. 4 in Britain.

Directed by Marc Webb; written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber; director of photography, Eric Steelberg; edited by Alan Edward Bell; music by Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen; production designer, Laura Fox; produced by Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters and Mason Novick; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tom), Zooey Deschanel (Summer), Geoffrey Arend (McKenzie), Chloë Grace Moretz (Rachel), Matthew Gray Gubler (Paul), Clark Gregg (Vance), Rachel Boston (Alison) and Minka Kelly (Girl at Interview).


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