I first noticed Zooey Deschanel in The Go-Getter (full review) as the girl whose car gets stolen; That’s odd because most of the time she is narrating, and the most captivating part of her is the eyes. She’d been in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but she didn’t stand out to me then. Not enough to remember her name. However, in 500 Days of Summer, I spent most of the film lost in those eyes. She put forth a fragility backed with a depth of strength and distance, that instantly reminded me of Audrey Hepburn.
Now, a friend of mine on twitter reminded me that liking Audrey became a bit of a cliche, but good taste is never hackneyed. The shallow admiration of her doesn’t dull her brilliant presence; a recent post at The House Next Door captured what makes her wonderful better than I can, but the fawn-like eyes are part of it, and Zooey has that for sure. In 500 Days, she plays Summer, and remains mysterious for most of the film. We see her through the eyes of office drone Tom Hansen, who works crafting platitudes at a greeting card company. She’s the new receptionist, and catches his eye immediately. But there’s more than that. They like the same music, something our generation has put so much weight on, best shown in High Fidelity; she flits around with her out of style hair and seems to have walked out of a novel.
The film begins by telling us that it is a story about love, but not a love story, and it remains true to this. It shouts its love of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate in the early brief narration and we see it play out subtly thereafter with a shot or two. Joseph-Gordon Leavitt of Brick fame plays Tom and shows incredible range here; the script lets him run the gamut from “that guy we like from the PG movie” as Trent from Swingers would say, to the sarcastic, self-loathing bastard with the broken heart. He manages to stay likeable through it all, and we’re never biting our tongue to stop from shouting relationship advice; the story is smart, and we don’t get that intolerable forced break-up that wouldn’t have happened if someone would just say something. It’s not a love story. If anything, it’s about guys like Tom, elbow deep in drudgery that keeps them from chasing their dreams, and girls like Summer, who’ve told themselves they don’t believe in love.
There’d be a whole new story if we told it from Summer’s perspective, but the charm is seeing glimpses of it through Tom’s eyes as he changes, and putting it together ourselves. While obvious comparison to Juno are inevitable, this isn’t a high school story where they steam along on the strength of our convictions; it does have a strong soundtrack, the kind of thing that quirky Minnesota gal might like in college, such as Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths; it has clever, colorful inter-title cards, and it’s so smart that we might think it’s too smart for its own good, but it isn’t. First-time director Marc Webb, and a first-time screenwriter duo of Michael Webber and Scott Neustadter have given us a great story here. And they’ve given Zooey Deschanel and Joseph-Gordon Levitt starring roles they deserve (they’ve since been in Yes Man and G.I. Joe, paychecks from which will hopefully hold them over until they can take better roles). My favorite? The scenes of early courtship as they goof around in an Ikea, it felt like something inspired by the Simon & Garfunkel song “America.”