entertainment

That breaking noise is his heart

A version of this review appeared in March. Steven Rea, Inquirer Movie Critic

Updated: Friday, July 24, 2009, 3:01 AM

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the love-sick guy and Zooey Deschanel the object of his affections.

'There are only three things to be done with a woman," Henry Miller once wrote. "You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature."

And you can turn her into a movie, too.

That's what screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber have done in (500) Days of Summer, the engagingly breezy tale of a guy with a broken heart and the girl who broke it.

The opening nighter at the Philadelphia CineFest in March, (500) Days uses that Miller quotation (loosely) and adds a bit more cultural heft to its helium-balloon romance by referencing the French new wave, The Graduate, and art deco architecture.

Like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, music is key as well - not just to establish mood, but to identify the emotional state of its characters. In heavy rotation: Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths.

With a quasi-anthropological narration ("This is not a love story . . ." intones the narrator) and a fractured, time-toggling structure, (500) Days stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, a Generation Y guy who studied to be an architect but now pens platitudes for a greeting card company.

It is in the office there, one fine day, that Summer (get it?) walks into the conference room - the boss' new assistant. Played by Zooey Deschanel in that uniquely Zooey Deschanel way (a wifty mix of smarts and impossible cuteness), Summer is cool, alluring, aloof.

And Tom is smitten.

(500) Days is set in Los Angeles - downtown Los Angeles, where Tom admires what's left of the early- and mid-20th-century buildings, and where he's found a favorite perch in a park overlooking some of his cherished edifices. To be sure, it isn't long before Summer is sitting right alongside, as Tom expounds on the glories of Walker & Eisen and the virtues of a clustered skyline.

Gordon-Levitt - playing a guy alternately head-over-heels and totally bummed - pulls off the leading man gig in ways that should do his career well. Since graduating from the '90s sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun, the actor's pretty much camped out in Indieville, appearing in a bunch of great and not-so-great small, low-budget films (Manic, Mysterious Skin, The Lookout). He holds (500) Days together with aplomb.

Deschanel does what she does seemingly without effort, managing to convey Summer's mixed-up messed-upness - she's brooding, she's bubbly, flirtatious, frank, coy, ethereal - with a kind of crazy allure that makes us understand why Tom thinks he's found his One True Love.

The fact that Summer doesn't feel quite the same way is the crux of the problem.

Director Marc Webb gets too gimmicky for his own (and the film's) good: There's a dancing-in-the-streets number - a kitschy Hall & Oates tune - replete with a chirpy line of hoofers and an animated bluebird that comes off more like an over-the-top TV commercial than a witty musical illustration of Tom's euphoria.

And there are the usual best bro sidekicks: a well-meaning, long-married dullard, and a horny dude who gets sloppy drunk and hasn't had a girlfriend in years (Matthew Gray Grubler and Geoffrey Arend, respectively).

As the title suggests, Tom and Summer's affair comes with an expiration date, but it's the kind of relationship that will stay in Tom's head for a lifetime. (500) Days, on the other hand, isn't likely to make such a lasting impression on audiences - but its charms are nonetheless manifest and many.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

A version of this review appeared in March. Steven Rea, Inquirer Movie Critic

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