The recent passing of John Hughes only highlights all that’s gone wrong with romantic comedies in recent years. Sometimes it feels like there should be a law requiring ‘Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here’ signs outside theaters showing the latest boy-meets-girl flick…but there’s something strange in the water this summer, and the genre is getting a well-needed facelift.

First there was the fresh dialogue and characters of The Proposal, and now there’s (500) Days of Summer, which raises the bar to a whole new level.

Summer is the story of the lovesick Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his complete crush on fellow greeting card company employee Summer Finn (the luminescent Zooey Deschanel, doing her best work to date). Summer just wants to be friends (with benefits), but Tom’s convinced she’s the love of his life. Someone’s going to lose.

What sets Summer apart is that it’s a complete journey through 500 days-in-the-life of these two unique, extremely likeable, honest people. As the poster advertises, Summer ‘is not a love story. This is a story about love.’ And there’s a big difference.

It’s what set Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful apart from the trite 80s rom-coms, and it’s what sets Summer well apart from, say, anything starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson.

(500) Days of Summer is a truly intelligent movie with none of the traditional rom-com clich├ęs. The ol’ tearful, angry breakups and passionate make-up kisses in the rain are replaced by simple gestures, nuanced looks, and some of the wittiest dialogue you will hear this year.

Even Tom’s ‘morning after the big night’ gleeful walk to work hearkens back to the fantastic, out-of-nowhere lawnmower dance in Hughes’s She’s Having a Baby.

Another big part of Summer‘s sparkling originality comes with how the star-crossed ‘story about love’ is presented. Time-hopping more than Pulp Fiction ever dared, Summer starts at the end, jumps to the beginning, leaps forward to, say, day 153, back to day 8, and then way ahead to day 251. And through it all, you never want it to get to day 500. It’s a clever way to tell the story, and it works– allowing you to focus far more on the characters (and their story) than you would have otherwise.

The city of Los Angeles is as much a star of the movie as Chicago ever was in Hughes’s work, and the soundtrack (also a Hughes trademark) comes in a close second. Littered with great stuff from Regina Spektor, The Smiths, and Feist, Summer feels at times like a wonderful long-form music video, where the tunes actually add to the story, instead of detracting from it.

In the end, Summer simply works because it never tries too hard. Every line of dialogue, every crisis, conflict, and laugh seems so completely natural and true that the movie just wafts over you like a welcome breath of fresh air.

It’s all enough to make Mr. Hughes rest peacefully, knowing there’s someone down here doing it right.

4.5/5 stars