Like the first real burst of sunshine after a long and dreary winter, director Marc Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer” is the most charming and original romantic comedy of the year, a film bursting with great acting, witty writing, and visual inventiveness that stands shoulders above any recent entry to the genre.
In this tale of boy meets girl, that’s very up front about not being a love story, the boy is Tom Watson, whose love of movies and pop music has convinced him that true love exists, and that fate will guide him to it. Played with genuine warmth by the wholly underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he makes Tom’s romantic highs contagious, and his pitfalls almost painfully funny.
The girl is Summer Finn, who never quite got over her parents’ divorce and who wants to be an independent spirit first, and a lover second. Zooey Deschanel uses every inch of her face to magnificent effect, letting the degrees of her smile and the flutter of her eyes craft an ambiguous character whose exact level of affection for Tom is rarely certain.
As the title suggests, “(500) Days of Summer” charts a year and a half of this relationship, but it begins at Day 290, when Summer breaks up with Tom. With a zig-zagging structure that flows back and forth from this date, the film juxtaposes how they fell in love with how Tom tries to win her back.
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, the dialogue is consistently fresh and witty, and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel play off each other well. But more than its sprinkles of hip, off-beat, or calculatedly ironic dialogue, the writing generates a surprising amount of honesty. This has as much to do with the stars as it does the writers, for the two leads are willing to tone down their humor in favor of mining their characters’ pain and longing.
The other real star of the film is first time director Marc Webb. Webb got his start in music videos, and brings to the film the same kind of mind for grand conceptual ideas, giving “(500) Days of Summer” a unique look.
His ideas are as simple as using the blue of Deschanel’s eyes as a springboard for the entire character’s palette; her clothes always have a trace of blue, and her apartment is covered in blue wallpaper and blue flowers.
But his ideas are also as creative as a dance number to Hall and Oates’s “You Make My Dreams,” a split screen sequence that places Tom’s “expectations” next to his “reality” at a dinner party, and a sublime fantasy moment where Tom inserts himself into scenes from artsy European films about suffering.
These are only a few of the highlights from Webb’s seemingly endless arsenal. “(500) Days of Summer” uses the romantic comedy genre not just as a way to talk about relationships in this day and age, but it takes their visuals to an entirely different level. Instead of just talking about the pain and joy of love, the filmmakers have found suitable and engaging ways to express these emotions in thoroughly cinematic means.
“(500) Days of Summer” is one of the real treats of the season, a bittersweet ode to love that’s always surprisingly intoxicating. It’s a film worth falling in love with.