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Infectious spin on an old theme

BOY meets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to win girl back: it's a tale you've heard a million times before. But it's told in such an inventive way in "500 Days of Summer," it almost feels like the first time.

It is the first time for director Marc Webb, who puts his music video and commercial background to good use with stylish tactics that are lively -- a cheeky dance sequence, perfect song choices, a clever use of split screen -- but never feel gratuitous.

And the script keeps things moving by jumping back and forth in time between Day 500, Day 1 and in between.

The structure also creates a feeling of curiosity throughout, because we know this relationship is doomed, we just don't know how it falls apart.

We watch it all unfold with bemusement and dread through the lovelorn eyes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tom Hansen, a would-be architect toiling away at a greeting card company.

So maybe it's a bit convenient that Tom, who has immature, idealistic notions about love, should make his living writing facile platitudes on the subject. Surely an education is in store for him.

Tom thinks he's found the perfect woman in Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), his boss' beautiful new assistant who's just arrived in Los Angeles.

One look at those big, blue eyes and he's instantly smitten; this is the lovely Deschanel, after all, so who could blame him? Her alluring, mysterious presence is just the right fit here.

"500 Days of Summer" allows Tom to regale us with memories of this life-altering romance -- and because they're his memories, they're more than a little romanticized in both the highs and lows.

But that's part of the film's charm: the spot-on observation that everything seems magnified and it matters more when it's happening to us. Tom's closest friends and sounding boards, played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler, aren't particularly helpful -- or funny.

Summer has fantastic taste in everything -- all the same stuff Tom likes -- but there's also a classic femininity to her, with the bows and headbands she wears in her long, dark hair and the girlish frocks in her signature color of pale blue.

But again, this is the way Tom remembers her. The downtown L.A. production number he and a bunch of strangers burst into after his first night with Summer -- to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True," of all songs -- is infectious and inspired.

Why she turns suddenly cold is baffling to him, and to us; she told him at the start that she didn't want anything serious, but it all seemed to be going so well. Then again, she's meant to be an elusive concept. Like the season she's named for, she clearly can't stick around forever. Through every moment of jubilation and anxiety, Gordon-Levitt makes us feel for him; he's still so appealing even when he's miserable, you almost don't want to see him succeed.

Gordon-Levitt, co-star of TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun" and films including "Brick" and "The Lookout," has an everyman likability and determination, but he's just as adept at showing a deeper, more vulnerable side.

Unlike the whirlwind romance of "500 Days of Summer," this is a career that's clearly made to last.


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