Breakups are hard, but also sort of beautiful. That’s the premise of 500 Days of Summer, the 2009 rom-com starring Joseph Gordon-Levvit and Zooey Deschanel. Directed by Marc Webb, the film was based on a real-life romance belonging to its screenwriter, Scott Neustadter. Depressed and lonely while studying for a master’s degree at The London School of Economics, Scott met a young woman at school and became obsessed, much like Tom fixates on his new colleague Summer when he learns she’s not just pretty, but likes The Smiths. Neustadter and his crush embarked on an ill-fated romance, which ended with him getting dumped, but also getting the idea for a hit screenplay!
500 Days of Summer flips the traditional, highly gendered rom-com script in ways that were revolutionary at the time (Yes, 2009 was bleak). For example, it’s Tom who’s the consummate romantic with an insecure attachment style, and Summer who’s a commitment-phobe. When we meet him, Tom is positively desperate to locate the love of his life and settle down. By contrast, Summer doesn’t believe in love when we first meet her. Scarred by her parents’ divorce, she doesn’t want a partner, but likes Tom. Summer lets him know she just wants a casual relationship, which he claims is fine, hoping she’ll change her mind. Little does Summer know, Tom is already besotted with her.
500 Days of Summer was a huge critical hit when it premiered at The Sundance Film Festival, and it was a commercial success, too. But does this story of unrequited love hold up twelve years later? Does it remain relevant in 2021? Let’s assess!
Arguments In Favour:
- The Script Acknowledges Its Protagonist Is a Whiny Man Baby
When I rewatched 500 Days of Summer this week, I was prepared to be disappointed. Was Tom secretly a super problematic person, and I just hadn’t noticed in 2009 because Joseph Gordon-Levitt was so dreamy? Well, it turns out the answer is yes, he’s totally the worst, but the script acknowledges that. I now understand you’re not really supposed to root for Tom. Or at least, you’re not supposed to root for the unevolved Tom we meet at the beginning of the story.
Scott Neustadter’s script builds in plenty of humbling moments for its protagonist While the world doesn’t exactly need more movies about straight white guys who feel entitled to be with the women they think are hot, I did appreciate watching him get owned. Tom’s sister Rachel, who is played by a teeny tiny Chloe Grace Moretz, lets her brother know he’s too fixated on Summer from the start. She asserts, “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.” Rachel may be a tween, but she rightly realizes that, just because a woman likes The Smiths, that doesn’t mean her brother is meant to be with her. At a later point, Tom ruins a rebound date by moaning about his breakup with Summer; however, Tom’s lady companion points out Summer was transparent from the beginning: Summer always maintained she didn’t want a serious relationship. It’s even obvious to casual observers that Tom is in the wrong!
Ultimately, 500 Days of Summer concludes with the eponymous Summer deciding she actually does want a serious relationship – but with someone who isn’t Tom. In her last interaction with her ex, she informs him that he was indeed right about love; he was simply wrong about her. It’s a sweet, sentimental scene, and I sincerely love it! Apparently, I’m not as cool and cynical as I thought…
- Summer Is Pretty Awesome (But Not For The Reasons Tom Thinks)
Sadly, the audience doesn’t get to know Summer well. This is Tom’s story, and he doesn’t bother to ask Summer many questions, preferring to project his desires onto her. And because the film is about Tom, we see Summer mostly through his self-obsessed perspective. However, what little we see of the authentic Summer is awesome! While Tom would like her to be his manic pixie dream girl, she resists. At one point, Tom compliments his lover by criticizing the way other young women dress, insisting her clothes are superior. Rather than declaring, “Yeah, I’m not like other girls,” Summer is unimpressed. She defends women’s right to wear whatever style they like: “Some people like it,” our heroine responds. She doesn’t sell out other women!
- Paul Is a Fantastic Foil
Tom is a jerk who feels entitled to women. After Summer starts working at Tom’s office, he wastes no time making a move. However, when she doesn’t take to his awkward, initial attempts at flirting, he refers to her as a “bitch” and a “slut.” When Summer breaks up with him later in the movie, Tom starts trashing her looks! He is petty, and quite literally less mature than the only child in the story, his twelve year-old sister. And yet, the film cleverly provides Tom with a character foil, a self-actualized, thoughtful young man named Paul! Paul is Tom’s best friend.
Paul and Tom are the same age, but Paul feels decades older. He and his girlfriend have been a couple since high school, and while I don’t think it’s necessary to settle down as a teen to be considered a good guy, their relationship is so sweet! When asked what his “dream girl” would be like, Paul describes someone who’s more into sports and has bigger breasts. But he concludes the monologue by insisting his girlfriend is better than a dream girl, “Because she’s real.” See, the movie really does get that Tom is the worst, and it’s clear because the script contrasts him with someone who’s actually self-actualized.
- Why Is A Little Girl Performing So Much Emotional Labour?
I get that wee Rachel’s precocious enlightenment is kind of satire. The film is mocking Tom by illustrating a child half his age has more emotional intelligence than he does. Having said that, when Tom turns to his baby sister for support, it’s also kind of gross. Why is this kid doing so much emotional labour for a grownass man? Shouldn’t she be doing her homework? Is the idea of a little girl nursing her adult brother through a breakup actually funny? Or, does it normalize the idea that women – even the very youngest ones – somehow owe men their nurturing and support? When they remake this movie in fifteen years, please omit this role. At the very least, age her up!
- It’s a Parade of Conventionally Attractive, Straight White People
I enjoy this film, but the script sure is obsessed with the petty bourgeois concerns of straight white folks. The diversity that exists is negligible, and what few racialized characters are represented on screen receive at most three lines. As for sexual diversity, I’m pretty sure queer people do not exist in this universe, which is weird, because 500 Days of Summer is set in downtown Lose Angeles.
500 Days of Summer is a fairly solid skewering of the entitled monsters some men become when they meet a pretty lady. While it’s far from perfect, I’d recommend it to you and yours. At the very least, it’s fun to watch Tom slowly realize he’s delusional…