Since our arrival in the snowy mountains of Utah I, along with many other temporary transplants from around the world, have been puzzled about one thing: the weather. It has been uncharacteristically warm and sunny in Park City, almost to the point of robbing us of that frigidity that makes it feel like Sundance. No one has been able to explain it, not even the weatherman. At least, not until now. Here on the official third day of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I have found the source of all the warmth and sunshine that has festival goers ditching their winter coats and donning their designer sunglasses: it is first time director Mark Webb’s sweet, charming romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, a movie so bright and full of life that it just might have energy enough to keep the state of Utah warm well into next month.
Full disclosure — this is where I should probably tell you that I am both a fan of cleverly written romantic comedies and everything Zooey Deschanel does. Now, let the hyperbole rally continue…
The story, also written by newcomers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, revolves around the 500 day relationship between Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man), an alluring young woman who doesn’t believe in true love. And Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout), the guy who falls madly in love with her at first sight. Told out of order, the film takes us through the good days and the bad, from the days that end with Tom marching proudly into his job at a greeting card company to the days when he steps out of the elevator looking like he’s been run over by a bus, the bus of heartbreak. And while you might think this to be an odd delivery of narrative, just know that it works perfectly. We see the evolution and erosion of this odd, quirky couple in a seemingly erratic series of time shifts back and forth, but it is so cleverly put together (in scripting and execution) that it makes for a delightfully engaging postmodern love story.
This topsy-turvy tale of unrequited love is filled to the brim with energy and charm, mostly by the dynamic performances of its two leads. Zooey Deschanel is ever enchanting, brimming with confidence and quirky as ever. And as the rule goes (my rule), if Zooey stars in a movie and sings, it is always going to be worth seeing. And in 500 Days, she does sing a little bit. Of course, her singing is handily upstaged by the dancing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In what can only be described as a clever, unconventional diversion, Gordon-Levitt dances through the streets of Los Angeles in one of the most jubilant and fun numbers since Ferris Bueller serenaded us from the top of a float in downtown Chicago. It is a departure for Gordon-Levitt, whom I have personally praised time and time again for his dramatic works (Brick and The Lookout, for example). But together with Deschanel, he is certain to charm audiences with an almost overwhelming amount of cute moments.
Special notice should be paid to director Mark Webb, whose background is in the music video business. Like any good music video, Webb’s first feature film is filled with pace and verve that is infectious. Combining a uniquely clever and ambitiously unconventional script, one so smart that it reminds me of Juno, but without all of the hipster catch-phrases, with a soundtrack that moves its audience so effortlessly between the hope and despair of the arc of a relationship, Webb has created an unexpectedly fresh take on the classic romantic comedy. In his film boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, but girl doesn’t exactly fall in love back. And it drives the boy mad, as it would any boy who fell in love with a girl as charming as Ms. Deschanel. It is hands down the most delightfully surprising film of this year’s festival so far, continually catching its audience off guard, effortlessly delivering the laughs and earning every ounce of its opening night standing ovation. Don’t be surprised if 500 Days of Summer does the same once it is unleashed on the rest of the world.