One of the downsides of being a film critic is that we see so many movies, we get a bit hard-hearted. It can't be helped. We certainly go into every film with the hope that we'll love it ... but after seeing literally thousands of them, that emperor is buck naked, We recognize every recycled plot, every hackneyed bit of dialogue, every lazy directorial trick.
On the plus side, no one is happier to really, truly enjoy a movie than a film critic. And as jaded as I am (my husband jokes that I have a "cold, tiny, black heart" where genres like romantic comedies are concerned) I get an extra burst of pleasure when I see a film like (500) Days of Summer -- a movie so charming, so smart, so clever and well-crafted, it reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place.
I won't review it or recap the plot here. The film opened in select markets this weekend, and will open in the secondary markets on July 24. There are plenty of places that you can go to read what will doubtless be glowing reviews (our own Erik Davis reviewed it here, although he was far less enamored of it than I was.)
No, I'll just take a moment to say that if I could wrap my arms around (500) Days of Summer and give it a big hug, I would do so. Partly because of the film's entire tone. It's a comedy about a romance, but it's not really a romantic comedy -- and certainly not a "chick flick." It's somewhat sentimental, but not treacly. It uses an interesting, non-linear framing device, but never feels gimmicky.
Mostly, I loved it because it addresses a reality of single life that most rom-coms don't ever bother with -- those heart-breaking, intense relationships all of us have had at one point or another, with somebody who just isn't on the same page. The ones where, despite all the red flags that we should consider, we still hold onto hope that they're The One, and then spiral into depression when (duh!) it doesn't work out the way we wanted.
I've long been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's quietly built a career as a critically lauded actor in small, quality films (what the hell he's doing in G.I. Joe is a puzzler to me, because he's never seemed to be motivated by a paycheck before ... but that's a rant for another day.) Here he's utterly, totally a star. What's marvelous about (500) Days is that Gordon-Levitt plays the stereotypical girl's role, full of bright-eyed optimism and a belief in true love, and he falls for a woman, ably played by Zooey Deschanel, who holds him at emotional arm's length, and we witness the manner in which that (almost) crushes his spirit. Which sounds terribly dark, I know, but the film itself is light, while still remaining surprisingly genuine.
This is an amazing vehicle for Gordon-Levitt, who gets to play giddy happiness (complete with a fantasy dance number), black, suffering misery, and everything in between. He's an extraordinary actor and immensely likable, and this is a showcase unlike anything he's had before. If I admired him before, I'm almost stalkerish in my love for him now.
Other, small things that impressed me: Gordon-Levitt's character actually has friends, co-workers and a young sister, with whom he talks about his emotional journey and asks for advice (most people in romantic comedies seemingly live in vacuums without pals or jobs that they need to go to); the use of music is remarkably well done, unlike the usual Juno/Garden State indie-movie jukebox effect that we've come to expect; and the way that the film adroitly uses devices like split screens and voiceover without overt, cheesy cuteness.
I'd come to believe that I was unable to appreciate a "romantic comedy" anymore because of my hardened critic's nature. (500) Days of Summer comes as something of relief to me -- it's not sentiment, or even the genre that I've come to loathe, it's the lazy, cookie-cutter product that's usually marketed as romantic comedy that I despise. Give me something that's fresh, clever and fun to watch, and it turns out that I can still be enchanted. Who knew?