For me, seeing a romantic comedy in theaters is many times a self-indulgently ironic activity. Neither the romance nor the comedy is what I'm really after. I just want that smug, pat-myself-on-the-back feeling that comes from spending an hour and a half with friends, rolling our eyes and calling out egregious cliches or blatant plot holes. Strangely enough, though, I was knocked off my feet by (500) Days of Summer, a seasonal romcom that at first -- with it's indie-pop soundtrack and quirky costars -- seems like the kind of self-conscious, idiosyncratic dreck churned out by Diablo Cody and the like.
But it isn't!
OK, (500) Days is self-conscious, yes, but in a very clever, over-the-top way. Anachronistically following Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hopelessly romantic greeting card writer who falls in love with his new coworker Summer (Zooey Deschanel), the film is delightfully flamboyant in how it covers the highs and lows of dating. In this vein, there's a spontaneous, choreographed musical number to Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams," after the pair first "do it." The scene -- everything from the blue-clad dancers to the animation blue birds on Tom's shoulder -- is a solid nod to how histrionic our dating world becomes when amplified by pop culture's expectations. Much of the film uses witty plot devices and unorthodox techniques to capture moments that feel at once authentic, entertaining and universal.
The film also deals with a type of love that's extremely relatable -- the complicated, pseudo-unrequited kind. While Summer seems completely perfect for Tom, one never really knows what she's thinking. She seems intensely in love with Tom at times, but insists on calling him her best friend, which Tom resents. As the narrator is quick to declare, "This is not a story about love." But it's not that simple. And neither are most relationships -- which is why I have a hard time relating to any romantic comedies. (500) Days isn't reinventing a genre by any means, but it is revitalizing one that -- when played alongside The Ugly Truth -- looks to be in dire need of help.