The Wisconsin Film Festival’s opening night flick, the yet-to-be-released “(500) Days of Summer,” has all the makings of a smart romantic comedy. Dark-haired, semi-sullen male lead? Check. Eccentric heroine? Check. Brood of humorous but infinitely wise supporting cast members? Check. Check. Checkcheckcheckcheck.
Only one problem — “(500) Days of Summer” is not a love story. Instead, according to director and Madison’s own Marc Webb, this is a movie about “what happens when the life you expect collides with the life you encounter.”
Nevertheless, “(500) Days of Summer” is one of the most inventive and charming movies to come our way in a while — romance and love and everything that comes with them, be damned. At the most fundamental of levels, this movie is just as simple as Webb describes.
Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt, “Miracle at St. Anna”) is a hopeless romantic whose head has been filled with somewhat unrealistic ideas of love ever since his discovery of “depressed” British rock bands as a prepubescent.
In comes Summer (Zooey Deschanel, “Yes Man”) to fulfill his lifelong dreams. Except, Summer doesn’t believe in love, and thus the couple’s complicated relationship unfolds. And while the story is simple — again, boy + girl does not always = true love 4ever — the manner in which Webb and Co. present it is the most daring and interesting aspect of this film.
At the beginning of the film, the audience gets a glimpse of the pair’s final relationship destination, as the numeric relationship odometer of sorts that frequently fast-forwards or rewinds throughout the film shows (500).
From there, Tom and Summer’s relationship appears to be a rollercoaster of emotion — at least for the former — and it’s hard to keep track of the couple’s emotional status, clearly reflecting the latter’s love-fickle nature.
In addition to taking liberties with time and space, Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber explore the fantastical in offering insight into Tom’s lovesick mind. In one spectacular scene following the couple’s first night together, the city of Los Angeles comes alive to join Tom in a dream dance sequence, complete with animated blue jays. Touches such as this, as well as the unlikely soundtrack, which features everyone from The Smiths to Patrick Swayze to Regina Spektor to Carla Bruni, add a level of whimsy to the film that is touching to the utmost degree.
Also charming are the performances of Levitt and Deschanel. From the very beginning, Levitt is instantly as loveable lost in love as he is when he finds it at the end. His portrayal of a quirky young man desperate for love easily establishes him as an indie mainstay — a far cry from his days on “3rd Rock From the Sun.” And while Deschanel seems a little too astonished at the film’s beginning, her character quickly grows into the wide-eyed stare coming from her baby blues.
The real intrigue of “(500) Days of Summer” doesn’t necessarily stem from the fantastical; audiences will be drawn to this film time and time again because of the unique way in which such a simple story is told. In the end, Webb and his talented staff guarantee that audiences will want just one more day of summer.
4 1/2 stars out of 5