(500) Days of Summer: A Dear John Letter

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Chuck Zlotnick / Fox Searchlight

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer

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Your cinematic templates are just as antique. Tom says his idea of romantic conquest is "based on a total misreading of the movie The Graduate." You throw in references to scenes from that 1967 film and to The Producers (1968) and Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979). When Tom imagines a movie of his affair, it's in the style of art films from the '50s and '60s: Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, François Truffaut's Jules and Jim, Jean-Luc Godard's Masculine Feminine. After a while, I began to think that 500DOS was about not Tom's young life, or the 30s-ish filmmakers', but mine. And I'm no Gen Y baby.

You probably cast Deschanel, who recently played the free spirit to Jim Carrey's Yes Man, because you know I was beguiled by her — the wide blue eyes, the lovely blank face and secret smile — back in 2003 with David Gordon Green's first-love story All The Real Girls. Thanks for that, and for letting her shine through her character's opacity. But now my loyalty has shifted to Gordon-Levitt, which was surely part of your plan, since he's your figure of identity and sympathy. On camera since he was a kid, co-starring in the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, he's come of age most becomingly; as the teen sleuth in the Raymond Chandler–y Brick he showed his budding star quality. And now he makes Tom the sunniest sap in the history of unrequited love. You'd be much harder to take if he weren't your sail and anchor.

And yet I resist you. I detect a cool calculation in your chocolate Valentine heart. Your tone is a little self-conscious and preening. You're like the girl or guy who's been most popular at school since kindergarten: you'd be cuter if you didn't know you were so darned cute. I suspect that you're at least as much in love with yourself as Tom is with Summer. Maybe I'm just suspicious of your superficial take on romantic obsession. You make the whole process — the appetite loss, that strange warm-sick feeling, the borderline stalking, the whole splendid misery of surrendering to someone who tolerates but doesn't totally reciprocate — seem essentially narcissistic. Tom may be less in love with Summer than he is with the very notion of love. Which is his notion. And Summer, the object of his affection, is just that: an object. Since we're never inside her head, we don't know what drives her to reject the precious gift of Tom's love. She has no independent existence; she's just something Tom has to have. She may as well be a first edition of Action Comics, or a girl on a porn site. And because the emotional drama is so one-sided, I just can't love you.

I guess maybe I'm not Tom but Summer. I like your looks, and heaven knows I appreciate the energy you put into wooing me, but I don't want us to be a couple. So be well, stay swell, have a nice multiplex run, and maybe we'll get together at the Box Office Weekend Report.

PS: Have you seen The Hurt Locker? (Read TIME's review.) I'm so mad for that movie that I could dance down the street. (Hope that didn't hurt your feelings.)

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