This is a thoroughly delightful romantic comedy that is actually romantic and above all funny. Joseph Gordon Levitt is just getting better with each passing year. If this film does not mark some kind of breakout for him, than I don’t know what is wrong with people.
Gordon-Levitt plays Thomas, a writer for a greeting card company based in LA. He has been a romantic since high school when he compulsively watched The Graduate and listened to British bands like The Smiths and Joy Division. A narrator informs us that Thomas believes in finding that one true love. His true love turns out to be Summer played by Zooey Deschanel. She comes to work at the greeting card company as an office assistant and they both fall into a somewhat passionate affair, at least from Thomas’s perspective. Summer however, is a bit more cautious.
Overlay this with a hip, retro score of old tunes and pop-cultural references and you could have something deplorable, but what can I say, this film is genius. We are immediately informed by the God-like narrator and the particularly hilarious disclaimer that this is a film that will not be afraid of using filmic technique.
The title refers to the 500 days of Thomas’s relationship with Summer and we are constantly shifting back and forth from different days of their love affair albeit with a helpful numeric counter title card. Some may find it disconcerting to go from say Day 4 to Day 309 and then to Day 83, but this is actually a quite effective structure for this story and the contrasts between the beginning of the affair from the end of the affair are sometimes hilarious, sometimes quite moving and sometimes realistically painful as only those who have been in an intense relationship can understand.
The creative thinking throughout this movie is phenomenal, for example, to display different states of a characters mind, we see everything from a parody of a French New Wave film with Gordon-Levitt doing his best Jean Paul Belmondo, to a spoof of the chess scene on the beach from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. At one point, we break into an extremely lively and hilarious musical number full of marching bands and a little animated bluebird tweeting precociously. At another point, we are thrust out of the story and directly into the offices of a record company where business executives try to figure out why there was a huge spike in sales of the Belle And Sebastian CD The Boy With The Arab Strap in northern Michigan. Trust me, in context, it is quite funny.
If this film has a spiritual father, that has to be the 1977 Oscar winning film Annie Hall from director Woody Allen. Like that film, this one is about a writer of sorts and it follows the ups and downs of a relationship with a woman who starts out sort of weak, but develops personal strength as she goes along. There is a scene in this film that is a split screen in which Thomas goes to a party at Summer’s apartment and we see on the left side of the screen Thomas’s expectations of how that evening would go and on the right we see the reality. This is a brilliant touch to show the confusion between a characters hopes and their real lives and was reminiscent of the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton first meet and while they are making banal conversation we see their inner thoughts via subtitles. The director of this film seems to have come from the world of music videos and the screenwriters seem to have only one other produced credit, The Pink Panther 2. I had no desire to see that film before, but now I will.
But it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who deserves a lot of praise. He has played very serious parts in the past, from the gay hustler in Mysterious Skin, the brain damaged ex-jock in The Lookout, he was the suicidal marine in Stop/Loss and the hard talking hero of that great High School noir film Brick. But he cuts loose here and he’s dynamite. Sexy, intelligent, sometimes brooding and just a little bit arrogant, if I have had any complaint about Gordon-Levitt in the past, it’s been that by taking such diverse roles, it looked more like he was trying to show-off his range, but here, he’s a total charmer and nothing is harder to do on screen.
While it probably won’t happen, this is just the kind of small, pleasant film that should get a whole bunch of Oscar nominations. Too bad I’m not a voting member of the Academy or this film would be a clean sweep.