Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a romantic who falls in love with Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel, a free spirit determined to stay that way. What you need to bear in mind while watching (500) Days of Summer is that the story is presented completely from Tom's point of view. First-time feature director Marc Webb is showing us the 500-day relationship between Tom and Summer not the way it happened, but the way Tom perceived it as happening.
I didn't realize this for a while. At one point, while watching Summer talk, I thought, "Wow, she's coming off more like a literary device than a fully-rounded character right now." When I finally figured out the point of view of the movie, I realized that the sketchy depiction of Summer was a decision of writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, not a failing.
(500) Days of Summer hops back and forth in time through Tom and Summer's 500 days together. To help you stay oriented, the filmmakers post the number of the day you are watching as the scenes change. The non-linear approach works more than it doesn't. The same goes for the film's Annie Hall-style sequences, including a derivative (The Kids in the Hall and 9 to 5, anyone?), but very funny post-coital saunter that turns into something big, and a split-screen party segment depicting Tom's expectations on the left and how events actually played out on the right.
Parts of the production fall flat. Tom's work buddy McKensie (Geoffrey Arend) and best friend Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) are disappointments -- both overly broad and not amusing enough -- and Tom's excessively-wise-beyond-her-years young sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) was too cutesy for my taste. The filmmakers lay the music on awfully thick as well.
What saves the movie from being just a nice try is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, two exceptionally talented and charming young actors. Deschanel, whose credits include Almost Famous, All the Real Girls, Elf, Tin Man and Yes Man, manages to take a highly-stylized character who is alternately beguiling and maddening and find a way to make her gel while still remaining cryptic. Gordon-Levett, former child star of 3rd Rock from the Sun, has established himself in such memorable small films as the devastating Mysterious Skin, Brick and The Lookout as one of the most interesting and compelling actors of his generation. He makes Tom sympathetic rather than just pathetic, deftly painting the character as a sweetly befuddled and obsessive soul in love with the idea of being in love. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are movie stars waiting to happen and this may be the film that does it for them.
(500) Days of Summer isn't as clever as it thinks it is, but it's clever enough to succeed as a breezy, unconventional look at the joys and the pain of being the one that cares too much and at the wrong time in a wobbly relationship.