Friday, July 24, 2009

Movie Reviews: Two Sundance Festival Hits

(500) Days of Summer

Eight years after starring together in Manic, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt re-team in this offbeat romantic comedy/drama about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists and the young man who falls for her. Let me cut right to the chase -- this is one of my favorite movies so far this summer. It's everything those usually weak romantic comedies (see The Ugly Truth below) are not. It's smart, it's unpredictable, it's enjoyable. I had a smile on my face from the opening narrative -- when a voice-over proclaims, "this is a story of boy meets girl...but it's not a love story."

The film moves in a non-linear fashion from the perspective of greeting card designer Tom (Gordon-Levitt) who falls for his new co-worker, Summer (Deschanel). Over the span of 500 days of their relationship, Tom goes from ecstatic giddiness one moment (even indulging in a classic fantasy song and dance sequence at one point) to crippling depression the next. The question is -- will everything work out and end neatly wrapped-up as most Hollywood endings do? I highly recommend you see for yourself.

Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin) proves once again that he has mastered the uneasy transition from child star to adult roles. And Deschanel (so wooden in The Happening) is growing on me -- her quirkiness is definitely better suited for comedies than straight-up drama. But I was most amazed to learn that this is director Marc Webb's first motion picture. Webb, a music video and short film director, does a masterful job in this lyrical portrait of why and how we try so hard to make sense of love. [Rated PG-13; opening wider today]

Grade: A-


Like (500) Days of Summer, this other comedy-drama from Sundance explores a unconventional relationship between two people finding their way in life. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a sheltered young man with Asperger syndrome -- a higher-functioning form of autism. He has difficulties communicating and interacting with others and likes to escape into his love of space exploration. When Beth (Rose Byrne), a school teacher, moves into the apartment above him, he is pulled more into the outside world.

Dancy (Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Byrne (Knowing) both shine in very nuanced performances. But the inexperience of writer/director Max Mayer (who's only other motion picture credit is 1998's Better Living), is apparent. Instead of focusing entirely on the leads, Mayer diverts our attention to a subplot that seems a bit tacked on. Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving play Beth's parents -- in the side story that mostly detracts from rather than enhances the heart of the main story.

Overall, Adam is a good movie with very good acting by its two leads -- but you can't help but feel there was great potential that fell short. Although it's supposed to be about an implausible relationship, I found parts of the story too unbelievable. Still, it's funny, touching and better than so much of what's in theaters during the summer. [Rated PG-13; opens July 29]

Grade: B


  • Click the Adam movie poster image above to learn more about Asperger Syndrome.
  • Click here for an alphabetical archive of all movie reviews.

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