Ever been in love? Ever had your heart broken? Ever spent over 48 hours in nothing but your dressing gown, surrounded by empty bowls of cereal and tissues and bottles of whisky? Then you'll relate to (500) Days Of Summer.
On paper, it looks like exactly the kind of self-consciously hip, knowingly quirky indie comedy that'll make your stomach turn - the unnecessary punctuation, the sketchy animated intro, the good-lookin' kids with too many letters and hyphens in their names. In actual fact, (500) Days Of Summer is none of the above: it's the lightest, brightest, funniest and most winsome film so far this year.
Labelling it a rom-com feels wrong somehow; the genre has been sullied of late. Most usually tip one way or the other - either chick-lit romance with mild titters for the girls or out-and-out comedy with an awkward love story shunted on the back-end for the boys. (500) Days will appeal to both genders and strikes the perfect balance between rom and com, with a little human drama thrown in for good measure - there's really no reason a screen romance can't be realistic, charming and
funny. Forget Garden State, fuck Juno: this is the modern, witty, uplifting love story 'Generation Y' deserves.
Tom (Gordon-Levitt) is a good-natured LA kid who falls for cute office secretary Summer (Deschanel) and can't get her out of his mind. The film chronicles the 500 days of their relationship in a jumbled order, flitting backwards and forwards through their on-again, off-again romance. Initially, the lack of narrative stability unsettles, but in time, the ins and outs of the relationship are laid bare, like a vast jigsaw puzzle finally completed on the living room carpet. The film's chronological schizophrenia neatly skirts issues of predictability that sink more straightforward rom-coms - here we skip from good times to not-so-good times and back again. A gimmick? Maybe, but it works.
The topsy-turvy narrative also allows for some neat tricks. Tom enters a lift sporting a post-coital glow, then exits - several hundred days later - with a face like thunder. A list of Summer's adorable plus points are repeated later, minus those rose-tinted glasses, as petty cons. One scene sees Tom horsing around in IKEA to little effect, when later - but actually much earlier - the very same routine is met with smiles and kisses. It's an ingenious way to deconstruct the maddening frustrations of a volatile relationship - the kind which flourishes only in the moment.
Former music video director Marc Webb has other tricks up his sleeves, too. There's a playfulness that keeps the movie light and frothy: Tom struts down the street enjoying a head-in-the-sky high - illustrated by a mass choreographed dance sequence - while later, he appears, dejected, in his very own black and white Fellini tribute.
Better, the split-screen sequence in which Tom's expectations of a night's events plays out adjacent to the far more depressing reality is a simple concept, but devastatingly executed. It's just one of the ways (500) Days Of Summer defies convention and refuses to conform to your expectations. Even the soundtrack is deployed with a wink and a nudge; Tom's love of The Smiths is used as a lure to land the indie chick of his dreams.
If the screenplay is something special, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel reward it with the performances it deserves. Levitt - channelling an effortless, feet-shuffling charm - pitches his protagonist with just the right amount of pathos; there's no eye-rolling quarter-life crisis to be suffered here. Crucially, Levitt's lovesick puppy is a likeable chap who you only want to succeed. Chaps: you've been him before.
Deschanel is impossible not to fall for. Less self-consciously quirky than she has been in previous roles - though she still brings plenty of the indie chick baggage she's built up over the years - her Summer is indeed a ray of sunshine: warm, funny, rebellious and beautiful. Her eyes are just hypnotic. (500) Days may occasionally seem like a one-sided account, painting Summer as shallow, but that's almost the point: this is Tom's recollection of the relationship and how the love of his life changes according to his memories.
Together, the pair share a heartfelt chemistry that's natural and believable. There was a danger that Summer's steadfast pragmatism - she doesn't believe in love or commitment - would be the film's downfall (cue last-reel change of heart, running hug, cutesy credits etc.) but it actually gives the story backbone. It's refreshing to see a movie take the hard line and stick to it - its honesty is endearing. As such, the final heart-to-heart damn near knocks the wind out of you.
Inventive, original and hugely relatable, (500) Days Of Summer is the perfect screen deconstruction of a relationship, for once, from the man's point of view; showing the highs flushed next to the lows, all mixed together to show just how turbulent that crazy little thing called love can be. It's joyous, touching and funny, and there isn't even a last-minute dash to the airport, either. How about that?