- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

“Henry Miller said the best way to get over a woman is to turn her into literature,” a character in “(500) Days of Summer” advises the lovelorn Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

A personal story, idiosyncratically told, “(500) Days” itself has a writing-as-therapy feel. “This is a story of boy meets girl,” a narrator tells us at the opening. “But you should know upfront it’s not a love story.”

That much is obvious from the title. Tom has just 500 days with the love of his life — or so this die-hard romantic believes she is — Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The failed architect is a Los Angeles greeting-card writer who immediately becomes smitten with his boss’s new assistant. She’s beautiful, quirky and, like him, loves the Smiths. That’s enough for Tom, who proceeds to lose his heart despite the fact that Summer is quite clear in her belief that love is simply a “fantasy” and her declaration that she doesn’t want a relationship.

The role reversal here isn’t the only thing that’s different about “(500) Days.” Those 500 days, for example, aren’t presented completely chronologically. The film begins at day 400-something and proceeds to skip around in time. There’s a certain whimsy to the film stylistically, too. After Tom finally has bedded Summer, he walks through a park in a big dance number with a cast of dozens, all attired in various shades of blue, the color his paramour favors.

Too many films are unconventional in visual style simply to mask other faults, such as a weak screenplay. In “(500) Days” it feels organic, a result of the optimistic worldview of the romantic at its heart. The problem with the film is that its 90 minutes are meant to show the very real dangers of such an outlook — making it an antidote to the long tradition of romantic comedy — but its last five undercut its point. First-time director Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber wimp out at the last moment, not willing to take their cautionary tale to its natural end.

Because of that, the film ends up not being much more than its slightly superficial parts. Tom and Summer are every hipster’s idea of the ideal romantic couple. The lead actors are charming enough but aren’t given much to work with — especially the talented Mr. Gordon-Levitt, who has shone in films such as “Brick.” (Women will wince at hearing Summer, said to be 5 feet 5 inches tall and 121 pounds, described as being of “average” weight, when she’s more than 30 pounds below average.)

The supporting cast is also good, particularly Matthew Gray Gubler (from television’s “Criminal Minds”) who brings an unforced charm to his role as one of Tom’s sounding boards. The greeting-card company at which Tom toils is a comedy gold mine terribly underused, especially because it’s headed by comedic talent Clark Gregg — another example of potential squandered in what could have been a very special film.

★★½

TITLE: “(500) Days of Summer”

RATING: PG-13 (sexual material and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Marc Webb. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.foxsearchlight.com/500daysofsummer

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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