First time feature director Mark Webb kicks off his film with one of those "any similarities to living persons are purely coincidental" disclaimers, only then to turn around and name names in the form of an ex-girlfriend (with an added "fuck you" as punctuation). Sure, it's a joke, but one that instantly reveals the film's structural cracks and cross-wired sentiments as it hits the floor with a gigantic thud. If (500) Days of Summer ultimately wants to be about emotional resolve, release, and rebirth - as it clearly does - then why the negative mojo before we've even seen one single image? Pure nonsense. Personally, I chalk this up to the inexperience of a director who previously had only worked in the short-film form of music video, an arena where visions and archs are connected across much shorter distances.
In fact, that sensibility leaves its fingerprints all over (500) Days of Summer. Ideas are choppy, short-lived, brief, erratic. You'll get no disagreement from me that non-linear filmmaking can be compelling, but what Webb's up to here is a shell game, one that simply enacts the storytelling device of past-present-past time shifting in order to divert attention away from the filmmaking flaws. To lay out the happenings of (500) Days of Summer in sequential fashion would be to plainly reveal the film's vacuousness. Sequences such as the love-locked Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sliding into a street musical performance after his first lay with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and an ill-used narrator taking us through a slide show of "the effects of Summer" feel like shampoo commercial fodder, not cinema.
I think it's safe to say that each one of us has loved somebody that never loved us back. Because of that universally shared experience, the dilemmas that Tom and Summer face as friends and lovers is automatically relatable, but what Webb fails to capture through his lens and - more significantly - through the direction of his actors, is any tangible sign of lovesick infatuation. I can hum The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" to myself right now with those immortal lyrics "and in the darkened underpass/I thought 'oh god, my chance has come at last'/but then a strange fear hit me/and I just couldn't ask" crying off my tongue and be instantly transported to a place of boy/girl swirl, yet Webb chose to waste that epic tune on a silly meet-cute elevator scene. Funny that a guy who's worked on so many music videos has yet to grasp the powerful relationship between song and image.
It also doesn't help that Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have absolutely zero chemistry on screen. As the couple flits around an IKEA together during an early-in-the-relationship day date, Summer whispers to Tom, "this is fun". Really??? It didn't appear to be. You'd think that the # 1 female object of indie-pop desire would have, by now, figured out a constructive way of responding to a boys devoted emotions besides staring straight-forward with blank blue eyes. It's as if Deschanel has experienced a bit of that "Summer effect" herself, cutting career corners with fluttery charm, winking her way to superstardom.
Deschanel was once able to channel her porcelain features and droll persona into strong supporting comedic roles (see The Good Girl and Elf), but as a leading lady, she's simply out of her range. Yes, you're a cute one Zooey, but not near as radiant as an Anna Karina or Brigette Bardot, so you must learn how to act! And before his next feature-length undertaking, Marc Webb must learn how to direct. With such a universal topic, it must have been easy for him to cut corners as well, but if next time around I catch my man molesting the soul out of "I Know It's Over", we're gonna have some serious problems.