Romance movies follow the same formula where the protagonists meet, fall in love, encounter a conflict, and overcome all odds to be together. With the repetitive cycle, most romance films become copies of one another and seldom leave an impression on the audience. However, while an older audience can easily dismiss these movies, younger viewers are left with the belief that what they see on the big screen or television is how it is meant to play out. The romantic comedy-drama 500 Days of Summer explores the realities of romance.
500 Days of Summer marks the debut of Marc Webb, who is best known as a music video director. The film opens with Tom and a woman named Summer sitting on a park bench with the narrator warning viewers that what they are about to witness is not a love story. Throughout the narration, we learn about their stance regarding love with Tom revealed to be a romantic whose belief in happiness relied on finding ‘the one’ while Summer is a skeptic.
After a series of montages, Tom is seen breaking plates and consoled by his friends and sister. He explains how Summer broke up with him earlier that evening and announces his intention of getting her back. Throughout the movie, the audience is taken back and forth on their relationship. Most of the film follows Tom’s narrative, painting her as something of a manic pixie dream girl.
Manic pixie dream girls are female characters who are too perfect to be real. They often serve the purpose of teaching male protagonists about the importance of embracing life and act as tools to complete them. While Summer is depicted as such, the truth is that everything seen in the film comes from Tom’s perspective. The audience learns how Summer is firm on her stance against romance. She is a perfectly average character whose interests coincidentally aligned with Tom’s, and Tom’s sister emphasizes the point early in the film, stating, “Just ’cause some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap that you do, that doesn’t make her your soul mate, Tom.”
Tom represents many, if not most, romantics today who are smitten by how the media portrays romance. Despite Summer reminding him about how she is not after a serious relationship, Tom pushes this image of her as the perfect girl. Throughout the film, our protagonist makes everything about himself. He compares how his friends view romance, and even when Summer opens up about some of her secrets, Tom still talks about himself, saying, “I guess I’m not just anybody.”
As the film continues, the audience watches the world go from a brightly colored atmosphere surrounded by blue to a toned-down picture as Tom slowly spirals into depression. This is emphasized when we see how his expectations and reality go their separate ways once he visits Summer’s party. Tom snaps back to reality when he ultimately quits his job and pursues his passion for architecture. The film rounds back to the beginning, where Tom and Summer meet at the park, and our protagonist finally bids her happiness about her marriage.
Most people fail to see the film’s point, often going off and calling Summer a bitch when they discover she gets married despite telling Tom multiple times that she did not want a relationship. However, even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays the hopeless romantic Tom, has stated that his character develops a delusional obsession. He emphasizes how the idea of projecting their fantasy onto a person is unhealthy, saying that they are only falling for an idea and not the person. Gordon-Levitt tells viewers, “I encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is.”