'(500) Days of Summer' a lovely dose of reality

Film is a smart, funny look at relationships.

July 30, 2009 

The opening voiceover for "(500) Days of Summer" makes it clear that while this is a boy-meets-girl movie, it is not a love story. It is actually one of the best unlove stories ever made.

Hollywood has churned out romance films with the constant theme that love conquers all since the first movies were made. "(500) Days of Summer" is the first production to embrace the more universal truth about relationships: they often end in failure. This is no idealized look at love. The film's strength comes from its stark -- and yet weirdly funny -- examination of what too often happens when boy meets girl.

The boy in this equation is greeting-card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He's a romantic who believes in love at first sight. The girl, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), is a new hire in the office who's not even certain love exists.

Director Marc Webb dances through the days of their relationship showing their courtship out of sequence. This could have been a gimmick that left the audience confused. But, Webb is like a romance tour guide making the odd trek easy to follow. He uses the numbered days as a way to immediately know where the story is in regard to the couple.

Even Webb's flights of fantasy work. A dance number in the park is the most entertaining outside extravaganza since Amy Adams sung her way through Central Park in "Enchanted."

Webb outdoes himself with a party sequence shown through the use of a split screen. One side is Tom's expectations of the way the evening will go. The other is the reality. It is a brilliant way to provide insight into Tom's thinking without having to stop the movie for mundane dialogue.

Gordon-Levitt turns in his typical strong performance. The biggest shock is how Webb gets such a memorable performance from Deschanel, who has been known to turn in rather bland acting performances. Her work is solid enough to keep the role from being just the obvious villain of the unlove story.

All of this goes to make "(500) Days of Summer" socially smart, relationship savvy and bitterly funny. You'll realize after seeing "(500) Days of Summer" that unlove means everybody has to say they're sorry.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355.

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