It took sixth months to find a film I enjoyed more than Coraline and of course it's another tiny film that challenges the expectations of the viewers and hinges on a strange aesthetic. Of course it is.
500 Days of Summer is a smart, dry, subtle romantic comedy for people who don't like romantic comedies because that predictable plot arc doesn't happen in real life all too often. For one thing, this film actually has a well integrated score of some contemporary music and some original scoring. The contemporary/popular music played is actually played by the characters in the film (sung at karaoke or turned on the radio/iPod/computer) and serves a narrative purpose. The original scoring is delightful.
Another big difference is the caliber of the performances. For those keeping score, it's ok to love Zooey Deschanel again. She more than made up for The Happening with this performance. She really has nothing to work with but "Wow, this hot girl sure is strange and hard to read" yet she pulls out beautiful moments of pain and joy and love and boredom that could easily be glossed over by an actress. She also sings in the film which doesn't hurt.
The true star of the film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the impossibly optimistic young man who believes in the fairy tale notion of love at first sight. For all of the strange quirks thrown in just to be quirky and strange, Gordon-Levitt makes them work. He's nothing short of brilliant. It's an absolute shame that this is not the type of role the Academy Awards tend to recognize (emotional male focusing on love and personal relationships). The screenplay would surely have suffered at the hands of a less skilled actor in the same way that Juno probably wouldn't have worked without Ellen Page making some really awkward dialogue and quirky moments seem real enough for the world of the film.
Which isn't to say 500 Days of Summer is anything like Juno. It's not. For one, the characters talk like average Americans (who understand grammar and use it properly, so maybe not so average). The relaxed LA setting works for the film. For another, the editing does everything to make intentional weirdness, like a transitional sequence of famous European existential films to signify the emotional turmoil of Gordon-Levitt's character or a black and white analysis of Deschanel's body measurements while riding a bicycle, work well. What could be eye-rolling gimmicks become funny and touching moments that leave a smile on your face. If anything, these moments are more like the cute asides in Amelie than the burger phones of Juno.
For another, director Marc Webb knows what he wants and gets it done well. The result is a film that seems like the director had a light hand when in reality he had to carefully orchestrate every single scene of the film to get the right tone and nuance.
So what is so weird about the film that the backlash is going to start sooner rather than later? There's the appropriate and justified use of voice over narration, for one. That gives people something to latch onto for hate. And then there's the fact that the story is not told in sequential order, uses a partially animated backdrop to show where in the 500 days the story is, and the opening voice over declares "This is not a film about love" even though it clearly is. And don't forget the young child wise beyond her years (Chloe Moretz, who is great in her few scenes) serving up relationship advice during soccer practices to her adult brother.
500 Days of Summer is a treat. It's the fluffy nougat of a candy bar or the taro in a bubble tea. It's a feel good film where a bunch of horrible (in real world scale) things happen to regular people. Please see it. You'll enjoy it.