(director: Marc Webb; screenwriters: Scott Neustadter/Michael H. Weber; cinematographer: Eric Steelberg; editor: Alan Edward Bell; music: Mychael Danna/Rob Simonsen; cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tom Hansen), Zooey Deschanel (Summer Finn), Geoffrey Arend (McKenzie), Chloë Grace Moretz (Rachel), Matthew Gray Gubler (Paul), Clark Gregg (Vance), Rachel Boston (Alison), Minka Kelly (Girl at Interview), Clark Gregg (Mr. Vance), Patricia Belcher (Millie); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jessica Tuchinsky/Mark Waters/Mason Novick; Fox Searchlight; 2009)

“Awkward offbeat summer to autumn romance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Longtime musicvideo director Marc Webb (“Seascape”) helms this awkward offbeat summer to autumn romance, that tries to move into Annie Hall rom-com turf but doesn’t quite have that magical Woody touch. It’s written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who have an agenda to prove love is not destined but is a matter of chance encounters. It opens with an all-knowing narrator annoyingly cluing us in that this isn’t “a love story.”

We soon learn it’s a boy meets girl workplace romance, set in Los Angeles. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) is an unassuming hopeless romantic, who as a youth misread the ending of The Graduate and fell whole hog for the British pop music scene to live comfortably in the real world. His job for the last three years is writing inspirational greeting cards, but he was trained to be an architect–his passion in life. His great contribution to the greeting card world is the card that says “I Love Us.” The boss’s attractive but cynical and enigmatic new assistant, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), someone who as a child coldly refused to believe in love, gets Tom’s attention. Boy soon gets girl and soon after boy loses girl. Why this happened, we are told, is because affairs of the heart are so messy and this film makes the most of that.

The reserved nice guy Tom Hansen is devastated that he was dumped by the person he believed was the love of his life, his soulmate that destiny meant for him, when Summer tells him she just wants to be friends and doesn’t want a boyfriend. During the time they first met, numbers are counted off that indicate the 500 days Tom was with the more forward Summer (though it doesn’t go in linear order, but following the lead of Memento randomly jumps forward and backward to cover Tom’s up and down moments in this bumpy relationship).

Tom uses as a sounding board for his romantic problems his two goofy best friends: Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), who is still going steady with his girlfriend from junior high school, and the nerdy workplace loser McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend), who drinks too much. His most trusted romantic adviser is his smart-beyond-her-years little sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz).

The slight story depends on how you feel about the actors, and since I could never warm up to Zooey’s performance I never could get too interested in the romance. That’s a problem, since this is a love story even if the narrator on the cute tells us it isn’t. Though I did like Gordon-Levitt’s performance. He plays an immature whiner, who somehow made us feel that his ‘everyman’ character deserved better. For me, the film’s best part was at the Los Angeles Plaza, where Tom gives Summer a tourist guide’s expert’s tour of choice old buildings in the city known for its lack of aesthetic culture, its mall strips and its glitz. I found the architecture talk hotter than the never-too-hot romance (that seemed mostly influenced by greeting cards).

REVIEWED ON 8/20/2009 GRADE: C+