“500 Days of Summer”
Fox Searchlight
At Quality 16 and the Michigan

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

4.5 out of 5 stars

The narrator of “500 Days of Summer” makes it clear that, though the movie may be about love, it’s not a love story. It’s not a true love story because the two lovers don’t live happily ever after. Instead, “500 Days of Summer” is about love in the way that most of us live it — with exuberant highs and devastating lows that are oftentimes interchangeable.

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “10 Things I Hate About You”) is a believer in true love. He meets his match and possible soulmate in Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, “Elf”). However, Finn doesn’t believe in love, and she certainly doesn’t believe in being in a relationship. This complicates things for Hansen, who is head-over-heels in love with her. Although the audience can sense disaster in the making, the two eventually embark on a shaky relationship.

Knowing from the beginning the pair is doomed to fail doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of its delightful beginnings. “Summer” consistently delivers passionate and emotionally stirring scenes. Never before has “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates been so poignant as when Hansen struts about (in a full-on choreographed dance scene no less) to the tune after his first night with his dream girl. It is a moment of pure joy until suddenly, only moments later, the film jumps forward to the aftermath of the ugly break up.

These leaps in time are common throughout the film, with the story continually jumping back and forth through Hansen’s memory as he looks back at his relationship with Finn. Employing this method allows a glimpse into something films about romance rarely seem to show: the middle of a relationship. It’s far more interesting to get a look at what happens after the triumphs of finding love and sometimes that isn’t so pretty.

To call the film a romantic comedy seems unfair, since it avoids the tired clichés of the genre and incorporates some unique and thoughtful techniques. One standout scene displays a split screen showing Hansen’s expectations on one half and Hansen’s reality on the other. A romantic comedy for cynics would be a more apt label for “Summer.”

Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast and acts as the film’s emotional anchor. Where most actors would blunder by careening from dizzying happiness in one scene to bleak misery in the next, he succeeds.

Deschanel is given a seemingly impossible task in her portrayal of Finn: She must fulfill Hansen’s expectation of the ideal woman, without revealing who she is and what makes her tick. Despite the lack of information given about her, she is a fully realized, flesh-and-blood character. This is an incredible feat, for Hansen himself hardly knows her beyond the façade she presents to the world.

“500 Days of Summer” provides something that has been sorely lacking in romantic comedies as of late: real emotion and real people. One day in the not-too-distant future, the names Tom and Summer may be considered our generation’s Harry and Sally.

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