Sunday, August 30, 2009

Don't Talk. Listen.

I'm nowhere near young enough to know if "500 Days of Summer" is emblematic of what today's twentysomethings really have to teach and learn about the mating rituals of urban elites. I've studied many of the earlier chapters carefully, however, as the scenes of my own adult life chick-flicker by. Can a Jewish writer in Manhattan find happiness (and avoid a statutory rape rap) with a shiksa half his age? Can Harry learn to think about Sally in other than purely sexual terms before they fall passionately in love? Will Bridget Fonda find a man who will say "God bless you" when she sneezes?

In the tradition of Woody Allen, Rob Reiner, and Cameron Crowe, directors of 1970s "Manhattan," 1980s "When Harry Met Sally," and 1990s "Singles," comes 34-year-old Marc Webb, whose "500" does for Los Angeles what his predecessors did for New York and Seattle. First movie I've ever seen with a character, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keanu Reeves with facial expressions), who ogles LA architecture. He's absolutely convinced that Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) is the one. I was, too, because that's how these movies usually go -- even after a weird-sounding omniscient narrator warned us at the very beginning that it wasn't a love story.

The problem is that Summer's just not that into him. After they've broken up, he's a blind date from hell for Alison (Rachel Boston), who, evidently as a public service, patiently and methodically asks him if Summer had ever misled him about her feelings or intentions. Certain that kismet is at work, Tom never actually listens to Summer or picks up her ambivalent signals. The movie's gimmick is that she doesn't believe in kismet until she changes her mind, but by then, it's too late for teacher Tom. Affecting movie, great music, appealing though poorly matched young stars, several Woody Allen-style grace notes (such as when Tom imagines himself as characters in Buster Keaton and Ingmar Bergman movies), and an old-fashioned (which is to say timeless) message about listening to what the other person is actually saying.

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