Music video director Marc Webb discards chronological structure in relating this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses girl saga about an amiable aspiring architect from New Jersey, Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who works in downtown Los Angeles writing copy for greeting cards. When Tom’s boss (Clark Gregg) hires a new assistant named Summer (Zooey Deschanel), fresh off the plane from Michigan, he’s smitten.
They like the same music (Springsteen, The Smiths), share a similar artistic taste (surrealist Magritte), even browsing through IKEA as if they were a couple. “We’re compatible like crazy,” Tom muses, blissfully.
The number in the title coyly refers to the length of time between the day they meet and the day they part. Sure, it’s a gimmick, as is the unconventional jumping backwards-and-forwards through time, but – for the most part – the scrambling works. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“Pink Panther 2”), the emotional interaction between the twentysomethings is engaging, even though the jumbled chronology device inexplicably goes linear mid-way through the story. In his first feature outing, director Marc Webb makes the most of nuances like past family divorces and contemporary workplace socialization and deftly utilizes a split-screen to create empathy. Not surprisingly, the distinctive music he chooses enhances the mood of each scene, particularly when he has Tom exuberantly dancing-in-the-park with a line of hoofers.
Since the story is told from Tom’s naïve point-of-view, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun”) captures the heartbreak and misery of rejection, surmising, “I think the key for me is to figure out what went wrong,” while Zooey Deschanel embodies the outwardly flirtatious free-spirit who, nevertheless, adamantly guards herself from commitment with elusive cynicism: “Relationships are messy and feelings get hurt. Who needs all that? Let’s have as much fun as we can.”
Unfortunately, the stereotypical subsidiary characters – Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz – are less effective. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “500 Days of Summer” is an offbeat, bittersweet 7. It’s a whimsical tale of love gone awry.