In the romcom everyone loves to hate, Notting Hill, floppy-haired beta-male Hugh Grant bemoans his mid-point split with out-of-his-league movie star Julia Roberts with the words ‘It’s as if I’ve taken love heroin, and now I can’t ever have it again.’ We then see a montage of him depressed and lonely without her, mocked by memories of her.
If they turned that montage into a move all of its own, its name would be (500) Days of Summer.
They would also have to play back all the days out of sequence, flit back and forth randomly and employ enough edit suite tricks to serve 500 normal movies. Because (500) Days of Summeris definitely not your average romcom.
First off, its central premise sticks two fingers up to traditional romcom fare: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.
Then it sets out to tell the truth about love: how ephemeral it is, how here-today-gone-tomorrow, how it’s often a gigantic delusion foisted on real people by sloppy songs, gushy greeting cards and, yes, mushy movies.
It does this by exploring what it feels like to be dumped by a beautiful girl who’s just not that into you. And it’s the conceit of presenting the 500 days of the romance out of sequence that hits home the message and provides the laughs along the way.
It’s a technique that serves up wonderful moments of contrast that capture the joy and the agony of love, none more so than the laugh out loud walk to work when Tom is so full of the joys of new love he sees it echoed back to him by commuters all stepping to his (and Hall and Oates’) infectious musical beat that takes him right into his workplace elevator, only to emerge from the elevator doors several hundred days later, post-break-up angst written all over his face.
There’s also the brilliant split-screen scene later which presents us the Expectations and Reality of a disastrous reunion party. And it’s this relentless adherence to the autobiographical truth of their catastrophic relationships with women by writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber that makes this film such a psychologically accurate depiction of what happens when a beta male somehow gets the girl of his dreams and then doesn’t have the cojonesto keep her (as if Tom’s love of The Smiths wasn’t a big enough clue).
In his interview with Creative Screenwriting (download here) Scott Neustadter points out that in previews the flm scored most highly with exactly the same audience that would least likely recommend it to a friend: men.
And it really is a man’s film. (500) Days of Summerhas a lot to say to men about how not to ruin a relationship, so it’s a shame that its romcom label will mean that most men won’t see it.
As I’ve revealed before, I love romcoms. It’s a genre I take a lot of interest in. And interesting things are happening in romcom land.
You wouldn’t know it if you watched predictable guff like The Ugly Truth, but there are people out there who are trying to do something interesting with the form and revive some of the excitement it had in the 1930s, and much of it seems to have come about through a desire to make them more man-friendly.
It’s not just in low-budget indie films (Orgies and the Meaning of Life or In Search Of A Midnight Kiss) or tragic love stories (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), both arenas where you can expect a degree of experimentation. The romcom Sleeper Curveis happening in the mainstream too.
Judd Apatow is often credited with single-handedly delivering a messy heart massage to the romcom genre with films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but R-rated, sexually frank romcoms that appeal more to a male demographic have been around a while now: see There’s Something About Mary, American Pie and more recently Wedding Crashers (I’d also namecheck brilliant Brit romcom, Hear My Song, which predates them all).
And now it’s gone mainstream, with more complex romcoms like Definitely, Maybe and 50 First Dates trying to do something different (not always successfully in the case of the latter), and (500) Days of Summer, which is hopefully the first of many truly experimental romcoms that speak to an adult audience, male and female, about one of our most primal urges: the need for love. It’s a subject that deserves films this good.