A friend who saw an early screening of the hip new romcom (500) Days of Summer told me that 10 minutes into the film, her overwhelming urge was to head-butt both the leads.
I had a different reaction: mine was more like five minutes. "This is not a love story", a deep-voiced and super-annoying narrator announces, an early indication – like the cute parentheses in its title – that Marc Webb's directorial debut will be something out of the common run, a little kookier and quirkier than your average boy-meets-girl. Perhaps it is. But I still wanted to nut them both.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a frustrated romantic who's ditched his ambition to be an architect for a job penning platitudes inside greeting cards. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the new secretary at Tom's office, and as soon as he gazes into her ocean-blue eyes he's convinced that she's The One. The reasons they should be together pile up – they both love the Smiths, and Magritte, and fooling around in the showroom at IKEA – but as the story's time frame flips back and forth we see how their relationship begins to flounder. Summer turns out to be flighty, elusive and cynical about long-term commitment, and Tom's dream of love turns to a winter of disillusion.
This almost-romance would be perfectly banal were it not fed through a blender of tricksy techniques, not just a choppy chronology but to-camera monologues, split-screens, mini-parodies of Bergman and Godard, even a big song-and-dance number in a public space (nicked from the far superior Get Over It). These lend pep to a script (by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber) that has fewer laughs in it than a middling episode of Friends. When Tom and Summer sit in a park and dare one another to shout "Penis" at increasing volume, I didn't think "how funny", I thought "how pathetic".
He's more irritating than she is, with his twee arias of self-pity and his too-cool-for-you clothes: a man who can wear a tie with a hooded top deserves everything that's coming to him. Her character at least has the ring of truth, the girl who keeps her real feelings hidden before dropping the bomb. But it didn't make her any more endearing. I've read somewhere that (500) Days of Summer is being called the Annie Hall de nos jours; that's a slur on a great movie, not to say on nos jours.