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500 Days Of Summer

Rom-coms: whatever the state of the world, from multiplex down to fleapit barely staying afloat in marginal towns, cinemas unflaggingly stick them onto their screens for couples of smirking victorious women and compromised men, jaunty groups of over-garrulous teens and ‘the older generation’ who never fail to pile in with breezy assurity that THIS is the pill they need. The new Jennifer Aniston over-perfumed, clean-cut and airbrushed vehicle of nice; the new Kate Hudson screeching party of over-energised fluff; the new Gerard Butler heart-string-twanger with a glinting eye. Rose-tinted inevitability and succour for the feelgood seekers. Great houses overlooking everything. Shrill Clairol faces jostling amid bouncing hair, temporary setbacks and ultimate baby-abundant or Hallmark-written resolution.

500 Days Of Summer promises to be ‘a different kind of rom-com’. The tagline, for example, reads: ‘Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.’ Hey, that does sound slightly different. Then you notice that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are in it. Gordon-Levitt seems to have almost accidentally fallen into ‘indieboy’ pole-position that Tobey Maguire lightly grasped before Sam Raimi and Spiderman shot him onto the A-List. Ever-young of face and effortlessly likeable with a hint of easy-intelligence and enough of the maverick, quirky solemnity about him to render him polished slacker elect.

Deschanel has the gleaming face of eight-year-old health, like something off a breakfast cereal box, but the kind of unforced charm and allure to make you miss her absence whenever she isn’t in a scene. She has clearly worked out how to look like she doesn’t care and yet make you care a lot. For this, you need to be very cute and clever. So both leads, then, are multi-dimensional and appealing. Expectations raise.

We start near the end, and the film is a jumble of non-linear glimpses of different moments on the central relationship timeline. We already know the relationship will end (but we suspect it will all tie together seamlessly, somehow) so it’s a case of watching how the whole thing falters. Cue some neat editing juxtapositions (Gordon-Levitt getting into a lift full of joy; pictorial timeshift from day ‘37’ to ‘188’, Gordon-Levitt exiting lift looking crushed) that help develop the central conceit and well-placed splicing of high- and low-moments. That such a device is employed to capture the recollection of the ebb-and-flow of a relationship is understandable, and it works pretty well. We see the same footage twice, with very different attributed observations. ‘I love the way she smiles!’ becomes ‘I hate her crooked teeth!’ as these things are wont to as the demise of the relationship hoves into view.

You get the big ‘I see the light’ moment akin to John Cusack foisting the tinny-blarings of Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ upon a bed-restless Ione Skye at twilight, or Billy Crystal sprinting through streets towards Meg Ryan to Sinatra’s ‘It Had To Be You’. Only here, it’s the downbeat shrugging off of idealism that a departing Deschanel augments. Gordon-Levitt quits his job as a greeting card writer, citing his lack of wanting to ‘add to the bullshit’. He then hangs out in his musty apartment and wanders down to the 7/11 for fresh supplies of whiskey and junk-food as he waits for the misery to filter out of his lethargy-freighted system. He decides to chase his dreams of becoming an architect and cultivates a portfolio. Things, clearly, can only get better etc…

Gordon-Levitt is extremely good at this kind of thing. Affable and with enough reserves of complexity to remain compelling. He’s the new Heath Ledger (he even looks a bit like him). Deschanel will eventually run out of these roles and presumably become a Disney-mom but this may be the film that defines and captures her best. Unattainable but impossible to dislike, she’s the perfect object of Gordon-Levitt’s doomed attentions.

The film isn’t a laugh-fest and isn’t a navel-gazing wallower either; it’s an enjoyably unprecious, smug-free charting of a briefly igniting romance that threatens to go somewhere and then doesn’t, much to Gordon-Levitt’s despair and Deschanel’s empathetic indifference, and it gets the balance right. And, in the end, it deserves credit as being a genuine attempt at something unusually bittersweet. (Until the end, where it resorts to type, but 500 Days Of Summer has earned enough goodwill at this point for you to let it go.) The architecture job interview: he meets a fox in the foyer, also waiting to interview. Do you think he’ll get the job? Clue: the woman, who (eventually) agrees to join him for coffee afterward, is called ‘Autumn’.

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