Few would argue that “Annie Hall” (1977) is not the definitive romantic comedy of the 1970s. The American Film Institute even went so far as to declare “Hall” to be the second greatest American romantic comedy ever – second only to Chaplin’s “City Lights” from 1931.
Perhaps not quite as absolute a choice, “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is considered by many as the best romantic comedy of the ’80s, placing sixth on the AFI list. The decision becomes even less sure in the 1990s, but the AFI members did choose one film from this decade; “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) ranked 10th on their list.
One day in the not-too-distant future, when the AFI is reconsidering the romantic comedy genre, one film should immediately take its place as the best from the first decade of the 21st century. That film is “500 Days of Summer.”
“500 Days of Summer” tells a simple story of a young couple who meet at work, begin a relationship and face all the obstacles, turmoil, conflicts, passion and joy that so often define young love.
Has this story been told before in film? More times than one could endure watching. Has it often been told better with more sincerity or creativity? Absolutely not. Does the film amuse, surprise and move the viewer? With almost every frame, and sometimes all three emotions happen in the same scene.
“500 Days” is a film made through good choices. The casting of the two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom and Zooey Deschanel as Summer, is brilliant. They fit these roles so well it may be difficult to watch them as different characters in later films because they are so perfect here. The energy of their acting compels one watch their every move and listen intently to each line reading.
Good choices define the screenplay as well. There are so many great quotes, funny one-liners and back stories that consume little time but fill out the plot. The best of these details is the greeting card company where Summer and Tom work: think extreme low-budget Hallmark.
At a mere 95 minutes there is not a lot of excess in this lean little film. There is, however, time for some neat storytelling tricks. The film is told with a broken timeline, which has become so popular today viewers hardly even notice any more. But it is several of the other tricks that enhance the movie.
There is a very limited narration, which succeeds in elevating the film whenever the voiceover is heard. And like “Annie Hall” 30 years ago, there is much experimenting with different perspectives and all of this is quite fun. The best of these devices occurs when Tom goes to Summer’s rooftop party. It is unknown whether these ideas originated with the screenwriter or the director, but again, these are good choices.
Few films these days warrant a second viewing at the theater. There is little doubt that “500 Days” is worthy of multiple viewings and will likely be screened for years to come as it takes its place alongside the greatest romantic comedies of all time.
In closing, there are two great comedies in theaters right now. “Away We Go” is an insightful, smart, sentimental and incredibly hilarious film about parenting. “500 Days of Summer” shares all of those traits, but focuses on relationships. Seek out these two films for their honesty and because it is good to laugh in these hard times.
Roger Thomas is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual material and language.
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Tom Hansen; Zooey Deschanel: Summer Finn; Geoffrey Arend: McKenzie; Chloe Moretz: Rachel Hansen; Matthew Gray Gubler: Paul; Clark Gregg: Vance; Patricia Belcher: Millie; Rachel Boston: Alison.
The movie’s official web site is here.