We think of the generation gap in Hollywood movies as a quaint relic of the era when films like “Easy Rider” and “The Graduate” split the culture, but as recently as “Napoleon Dynamite,” it remains evident that the under-25/over-25 divide is alive and well among moviegoing demographics.
So while I found the charming and inventive “(500) Days of Summer” ultimately familiar and rehashed, I could sense that it’s the kind of romantic tragedy that’s distinct and empathetic enough to be embraced by audiences who were born during Reagan’s second term. Or Clinton’s first.
It’s the kind of film that young couples will embrace as “our movie.” Special-edition DVDs will be produced for its anniversaries. New millennials will quote it, play the soundtrack to death and make it a yardstick for their own loves and losses.
I just wish it felt fresher. For all its visual acuity, sharp acting, hopscotching timeline and unique presentation of Los Angeles as a city with a thriving downtown, “(500) Days of Summer” feels like yet another in a series of “Annie Hall” wannabes.
The film warns us off the bat that it’s a boy-meets-girl story but not a love story. The boy is Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect who has put aside his ambitions to write greeting cards. One day, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) appears in the office as his boss’ new assistant, and Tom is utterly smitten. They bond over their mutual love of The Smiths, and while Summer warns Tom that she’s not looking for anything serious, he completely falls for her anyway.
We zigzag from later breakup to earlier breakup, with occasional fill-in moments showing us the good times, like when Tom shares his love of L.A.’s downtown skyscrapers (and, incidentally, “The Graduate”), but ultimately we’re served up more melancholy than hand-holding bliss.
While screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who still owe me 90 minutes of my life back for having written “Pink Panther 2”) very dexterously juggle the sequence of events, after a while it feels like they’re just doing it to keep “Summer” from seeming as well-worn as it really is once you put the pieces together.
Summer herself is the kind of maddeningly opaque female that drives guys like Tom wild, so it’s practically typecasting to shove Indie-Twee It Girl Deschanel into the role. She’s as charming as can be and makes you forgive the fact that her character is more archetype than human being. Gordon-Levitt always finds interesting shadings to his characters, and makes the feckless Tom much more compelling than he probably was on paper.
Director Marc Weber and cinematographer Eric Steelberg (“Juno,” “Quinceañera”) succeed in giving us a second love story in “Summer,” and that’s the one between the camera and Los Angeles. No trite beach shots or sun flares for this movie; instead, we get an L.A. that feels old and lived-in and cool. I can’t remember the last L.A. movie that prominently featured parks, trains and high-rises, as though the city were on par with New York or Chicago. (There’s even a dance number featuring a bursting fountain, and that’s about as urban as you can get in the movies.)
It’s probably the best advertisement possible for all those lofts currently up for rent downtown, and the young, post-collegiate professionals moving into them are just the right age to think that “(500) Days of Summer” speaks to them and understands their fragile, twentysomething hearts.
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