"500 Days of Summer," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is old goods in new wrapping. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl. The newness, or should I say, pseudo-newness, is in how the story is structured. Instead of a straightforward narrative, we're yanked backward and forward in time.
I say "pseudo-newness" because this back-and-forth thing is getting to be old hat, too. (Most recent example: "Duplicity.") In the end, it's just a fancy way of tarting up an old chestnut. If the story had been told straight, it would seem much more conventional.
First-time director Marc Webb is a music-video whiz, so slickness is the order of the day. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is pretty slick, too, just for good measure. What saves "500 Days" from terminal shallowness are Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel, who are not the usual picture-perfect androids peopling these young-love idylls. Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, an aspiring architect wasting away working for a greeting-card company. Deschanel's Summer (hence the film's coy title) is the co-worker he falls hard for. Because we know almost from the get-go that things will turn out bad-to-bittersweet for them, the movie is like one long autopsy of what went wrong, starting with Day No. 488.
Since the film is told from Tom's point of view, it all becomes a bit opaque when Summer suddenly backs away from him without much explanation. Despite Deschanel's innate charm, her character, perhaps unintentionally, comes across as a prig. Deschanel has been on the verge of mainstream success for years. Even though I'm not very high on it, I hope this film finally is her breakthrough. She deserves Day No. 1 of a bigger and better career. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language.)