In the enchantingly original and romantic (500) Days of Summer, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is a girl capricious, alluring, and not entirely knowable and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the greeting-card writer who convinces himself that she's ''better than the girl of my dreams.'' Five hundred days is the duration of their relationship, but the movie presents those days out of order, as an impish romantic flipbook, so that we keep skipping forward and back—from, say, day 8 to day 154. Most romantic comedies have half a dozen situations at best: Meet Cute, Infatuation, Pop Song Montage, Contrived Mix-Up, Angry Breakup, and Final Clinch. (500) Days of Summer is about the many unclassifiable moments in between.
Director Marc Webb, working from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber's witty script, stages each scene as a vivid snapshot memory, and his sense of play is boundless. The film leaps in a heartbeat from the furtive glances (and shared fixation on the Smiths) that ignite an office love affair to a rooftop-party reconciliation that plays out, via split screen, in two simultaneous versions (how the hero wants it to be and how it happens) to a morning-after-the-first-sex saunter that evolves, with joyful hilarity, into a musical number scored to ''You Make My Dreams.'' This has to be the first movie ever to give equal props to Morrissey and Hall & Oates.
(500) Days is like a mood ring cued to the ups, downs, and confusions of modern love. It's a Gen-Y Annie Hall made by a new-style Wes Anderson who uses his cleverness for humanity instead of postmodern superiority. None of it would work, though, without such lived-in performances. Deschanel makes the lovely, sensuous Summer just precocious enough to know what she wants without coming out and saying it, and Gordon-Levitt, with his junior Springsteenian chin jut, lets you read every glimmer of hope, pain, lust, and befuddlement beneath his nervy facade. It's a feat of star acting, and it helps make (500) Days not just bitter or sweet but everything in between. A