Taking a heavy queue from Woody Allen’s seminal romantic comedy Annie Hall, Webb weaves his film with no concerns for linear storytelling whatsoever. The film opens with day 488 and the break-up of Tom and Summer (the outcome is never kept a secret) and shunts quickly back to day 1, only to leap frog to day 112 and then back to day 8 and so on and so on and so on. The film shifts back and forth and back and forth through the story as if it were a child nervously shuffling in his seat on his first day in a new school. This trick, though not as innovative as many believe it to be, works to show the instability of Tom and Summer’s relationship.
What does not work for the film is the cloying (and quite annoying) indie movie cutsieness that pervades just about every scene. Filled to the proverbial brim with rom-com cliche and heavy-handed hipsterisms, (500) Days of Summer could easily fall into complete saccharine overload if not careful. What keeps the film from falling as such are the stars of the film. The lovely kewpie-eyed Zooey Deschanel as the titular Summer has a disarming charm that manages to overwhelm you – even when her acting does not live up to what it should be. Deschanel is more muse than character here. Deschanel is acting as Marc Webb's Anna Karina in his sideways ode, not to Woody Allen and his Annie, but to Godard and his self-referential sixties cinema. And, being the drop-dead adorably frisky brunette she is, she does a good job as doe-eyed objet d'amore a la Anna Karina (even filling out her sweater almost as well!) but it is not her alone who keeps (500) Days of Summer afloat.
What truly keeps the film going is the wonderfully nuanced performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the ultra-infatuated Tom. A sort of Jean-Paul Belmondo to Deschanel's Anna Karina. Levitt, who is best known for his work on the TV sit-com 3rd Rock from the Sun but should be known for his work in such darkly sublime films as Mysterious Skin and Brick, here goes back to his comedic roots. Playing Tom as hapless victim of love – as opposed to Summer’s quite jaded outlook on the subject – Gordon-Levitt gives us a character that is not only the inevitable evolutionary outcome of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jack Lemmon and Woody Allen, but one that is also as humanly frail as each and every one of us.
Perhaps the film falters when trying to be the fresh, hip commodity it so wants to be, but Gordon-Levitt’s hilarious performance, blending honest pathos with absurd sit-com bravura, gives this skeleton of a movie its real flesh and blood – even if it is just a mask to hide the nothingness inside. Then again, Godard called cinema the most beautiful fraud in the world, so perhaps in a way, Webb and his Belmondo & Karina are just perpetrating what is in essence, a beautiful (at least surfacely so) fraud. Perhaps. [08/29/09]