"The love story is so familiar in our culture that we rarely give it a second thought". This quote comes from David Shumway in McDonald's Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. It defines the traditional set up of romantic comedies or just romantic movies in general. The typical damsel in distress with severe identity issues looking for a way out. The heroic macho yet clumsy male who is the damsel's answer to everything. She is looking for love and he is trying to solve his own problems as well. Most traditional romantic comedies follow this pattern and excute it to a tee. However, 500 Days of Summer offers a romantic comedy in terms of radicalism. It demonstrates that love and romance isn't as black and white as it is usually portrayed in media.
Instead, 500 Days of Summer is about a hopeless romantic dreamer and a independent woman with traces of feminism. She believes that she doesn't need to be with anyone to be happy while he feels the exact opposite. Dueling idologies make for a great set-up for destined failure...
(This picture above clearly sums up the film. Tom who favorite movie is The Graduate, believes in a one true love theory and is the cause of his utter disappointment)
500 Days of Summer isn't your traditional romantic comedy. Yes, there is a boy and yes there is a girl. Yes a boy meets a girl. And yes boy falls in love with a girl. But usually the typical formula of romantic comedy is based on the end result which the boy ends up with the girl. It makes people feel good after watching a film like this and even inspires hope for those hopelessly romantic people watching. Just like the Tom character in this film who was brain-washed with media into having this type of mentality. As McDonald states, "a romantic comedy...portrays this quest in a light-hearted way and almost always to a successful conclusion". 500 Days of Summer though doesn't have this typical formulaic ending. Just like Annie Hall, "It breaks away from the generic conventions (of romantic comedies)...most notably the happy ending" (McDonald pg.59).
Radical romantic comedies deal with the ideology of romance rather than the straight-forward "I love you" type of stuff. Movies like The Graduate, Annie Hall, and 500 Days of Summer keep the audience guessing and thinking whether the couple will actually end up together rather than watching a guaranteed happy-ending film. Radical romantic comedies have the advantage of being self-aware of being modern films and even reference other straight forward rom-coms in the process (sort of a parody if you will). Realism is also a symbol of radical romance as it uses real locations around Los Angeles to provide a more legit feel rather than a fantasy luxurious world sometimes created in other films. The urban shots and locations of real apartments make the film feel more urban and gritty as opposed to merely ficitional. Also as indicated in McDonald's book "the costumes are much more realistic...rather than the total vision of a designer" (pg.91)
(Tom loves Summer, but does Summer love Tom?)
This movie tackles a bunch of themes and mixes them in one 90 minute film. Fate is a common theme. The main character Tom (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) ss a hopelessly romantic type of guy. Ironically enough, his idea of romance comes purely from watching romantic comedies as a kid. Tom's favorite movie is The Graduate and Tom feels the film represents what real love is. Summer (played by Zooey Deschannel) is the exact opposite and doesn't believe in fate. She also doesn't believe in true real love. Summer follows the foot-steps of postfeminism. As stated in Barker's Cultural Studies: Theory And Practice "suggests postfeminism stresses the ability of women to make personal choices...not follow patriarchy". This applies to Summer because at first she constantly turns down Tom's advances as she states she is independent and quite satisfied with her situation. This post-feminism indpendence clashes with Tom's ideology on love and woo-ing the woman of his "dreams".
The idea of true love is ambigious and varies from person to person. Tom is influenced by films which are fictional so his identity and persona follows that of a film. He believes it is fate that brings him to Summer and that it is true love between them once they start dating. Tom's idea of love as derived from his favorite film means falling in love and staying with person forever. As most radical romantic comedies, the main female in this film "admits that she's had previous lovers...(the film) does not condemned her for this" (McDonald pg.71). Summer even gives Tom details of her former lovers, as far as in depth facts about one who had a large penis. This briefly takes Tom aback as Barker states "phallus is...the domain of social status, power, and independece) and it tests his masculinity. However, Tom is so enamored with Summer that he quickly lets it go (yet another signature of the radical romance).
Although they start dating, Summer makes it clear to Tom that she doesn't want an official boyfriend. Basically she doesn't want to put a label on the relationship that they have. Despite having several ideological differences which are strong, they still become closer to each other in a way that can only head for disaster. "The texts which make up the radical romantic comedy sub-genre are aware of the almost inevitable failure of romantic love and allow their characters to strive for it nonetheless"(McDonald pg 71). We know that things can never be what Tom wants them to be, yet he continues persuing Summer. In this sense, this portion of the film follows the typical Ideology stated by McDonald as that there is always a quest or a journey for the male character to win over the heart of the female.
(When Tom and Summer separate, Tom imagines reconciling with her and everything turning out perfect. WRONG)
As with all romantic comedies, the implication of sex is huge. Although Summer doesn't want a traditional relationship with Tom, there is obvious sexual tension between them. As McDonald states is a characteristic of the radical romantic comedy, is "a very noticeable emphasis on the importance of sexual satisfaction to woman". In traditional straight-forward romantic comedies, the woman is usually portrayed as an innocent almost prude-like virgin. However, a radical romantic comedy demonstrates the woman as an equal to the man as far as sexual desires go without falsely indicating them as a "slut". This allows for a more realistic approach when dealing with romance which is shown in 500 Days of Summer. When the deed is finally done, Tom is on top of the world as it is shown in this over-the-top dance sequence that underscores Tom's feelings (and therefore solidifying his masculinity momentarily which was slightly on check from earlier). A similar scene in a movie is in 40 Year Old Virgin when Andy has sex for the first time and breaks out in song as well. These musical scenes "promote general idea of newly-dawning awareness, a euphoric awakening which testifies to the significance of the sexual experience" (McDonald pg.110)
Tom's maculinity once again comes in question when a random man starts hitting on Summer one day at the bar. Summer is constantly harrassed by this man until Tom stands up for her and declares he's with her. He then punches gets into a fight with the guy. Summer is then extremely upset saying that Tom didn't have to stand up for her because they're not together. Once again this underscores Summer's ideology of being the post-feminist indepdent woman who can take care of herself. This conflicts Tom's idea of standing up and protecting the one you love. After viewing The Graduate in theaters, Summer tells Tom they should break up.
However, the way the movie progresses is what makes it truly radical. The film parallels The Graduate (ironically Tom's favorite movie) in a scene, where Tom is set to win back Summer. This is very similar to Dustin Hoffman's character crashing Katharine Ross' wedding. They both go into the situation not knowing exactly what they are going to do and what to expect. In The Graduate Ben is able to win back his love as they aboard a bus and flee the wedding. But, we are then given the iconic look-of-uncertainty shot from both of them as the film end. So even though the film has ended on a "happy" note, is it really a happy ending? Or merely just a facade or a placeholder of all the trouble that will come as result of their hastly decision. Unlike Benjamin Braddock though, Tom doesn't get the girl he wants. But like Benjamin, he doesn't know what to do after it's all done.
Tom attends a party thrown by Summer but at the party finds out she is engaged and he leaves broken-hearted and destroyed. At the end of the film, Tom realizes he can only be friends with Summer and finally accepts it. At a job interview, Tom meets Autumn (ironic name) and gets her phone number. This sets up with a vague open ending that once again parallels The Graduate.
Many people argue that romantic comedies are not a good representation of actual romance. Well radical romantic comedies such as 500 Days of Summer is definitely accurate. Heartbreak is a common occurrence and boy doesn't always get girl despite completing and fighting through the "journey". In the end it wasn't fate, nor even their contrasting ideologies. Summer for what it's worth did fall in love with someone just the way Tom fell in love with her, despite her self-secured independence. This indicates that the problem never was her beliefs but rather her lack of interest in Tom. The irony in this film is the final signature of the radical romantic nature and the self-awareness of it is what makes it brillant.
"(500) Days of Summer"
BrandonFibbs.com." Latest Movie Reviews by Brandon Fibbs. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print.
"The Graduate - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications." Film Reference. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .
"The Graduate Overview." AllMovie. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .
McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower, 2007.