The 'indieâ?� romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer (use of the parentheses is being enforced by Fox Searchlight, who produced the film) is written by a duo whose only other screenplay credit is The Pink Panther 2 and directed by a former music video director for 3 Doors Down and Jesse McCartney.
I mention this because of the feeling that crept into my gut about halfway through this film: Who among those involved has anything mature to say about relationships? Where is the gravitas?
The best romantic comedies of the last century came from men (unfortunately, great female writers of the genre like Nora Ephron, Amy Holden Jones and the late Adrienne Shelly didn't come along until much later), usually middle-aged, who had either lived full enough lives to comment piercingly on the folly of love, or were able to admit they had no clue how it works. I'm thinking of Ernst Lubitsch (One Hour With You), Preston Sturges (The Palm Beach Story), Billy Wilder (The Apartment), and later, Ron Bass (My Best Friend's Wedding), Richard LaGravenese (Living Out Loud), Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets). In other words, there was a time when adults were in charge of the love stories.
That's not to say that romance can't be 'indieâ?� (a term that used to connote sensibility rather than soundtrack). Edward Burns, Richard Linklater and Michel Gondry have all crafted some of the sweetest, most honest love stories of our day, and they never needed Julia Roberts to do so.
But the makers of the parenthetically titled movie at hand would do well to set aside the pop-culture bells and whistles that choke their film ' conversations about the Smiths, Belle & Sebastian yearbook quotes and a time-leaping narrative device that seems put in place only to take advantage of a calendar ticker ' and focus on the task of engrossing an audience in a love story between two intelligent people in their late 20s. Here's a good place to start: Remove the affectations, especially in the case of the female lead, played by Zooey Deschanel, who is so twee and self-consciously adorable that she toes a razor-thin line between idealized pixie and borderline mentally handicapped.
The story is adequate enough. A greeting card writer (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with an office assistant (Deschanel), but he's a traditional guy who wants to find his soul mate and she's a realist who doesn't believe in love. Sure, there could be trouble down the line, inherently so, but it's a delightful journey in the meantime. 'Down the lineâ?� comes quickly, as the film shuffles between landmarks in the 500 days they know each other ' her name is Summer ' and our emotions are played with via that device to the point that we're just as confused and infuriated as Gordon-Levitt by the end of it all.
The film itself is a harmless tale and the performances all around are mostly winning, with the exception of Deschanel, whose expression never changes throughout all the twists and turns of the romance. Gordon-Levitt coasts on the material, but he shouldn't be forced to. As he's proven in performances like Brick, Gordon-Levitt is Cary Grant minus the mystery, the drama guy next door. If he's going to hold the screen ' indie, mainstream, whatever ' he must be provided with something to chew on, something truthful.
(500) Days and its makers seem to believe that love is only about songs and wistful glances, Echo Park and IKEA. But those are mere accoutrements to a main course, a truth that Hollywood's young storytellers seem not to grasp: Love stories should, at some point, also be stories.
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