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During the first season of Saturday Night Live, producer/ creator Lorne Michaels and formerly funniest man on Earth Chevy Chase impulsively decided to crawl on their hands and knees mid-sketch to tie John Belushi's shoelaces together mostly because, well, it was their show and they were going to do whatever the fuck they wanted. (500) Days Of Summer is the first film in a longtime which does whatever the fuck it wants. It lives and dies by its own sword, consistently brimming with confidence and originality, occasionally floundering amidst grandiose ideas which aren't quite executed to fruition. But goddamnit does it try. Song and dance numbers, animation, side-by-side alternate realities, animalistic narration. (500) Days Of Summer has balls, and that, more than anything else, is why it's worth seeing. It's an absolute monkey house of clever ideas and outside the box chicanery which spits in the face of all the Romantic Comedy clichés you've come to loathe---and somewhere, maybe around the time Joseph Gordon-Levitt is explaining why he bought a house with two kitchens, it becomes too goddamn loveable to resist. Here's a look at all the places (500) Days Of Summer ignores convention, history and formula for ingenuity, freshness and innovation.
The Couple's First Meeting
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Overtly show some sort of spark between the main characters. Their eyes would meet, fireworks would fly, interesting conversation would be bonded over. It may not always be love at first sight--but these kinds of films are frequently like or hate at first sight. Strong emotions are in play. She would lose her keys and he would find them, or he would make a clever comment and she would giggle and give him a little look.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Keeps Tom and Summer apart. He lusts after her from a distance because she's the new hot chick in the office, and his best friend wildly tags her as an “uppity super skank” because that's what boys who feel they have no chance with a girl do. Most relationships don't start via what-are-the-odds coincidences. They're slowly evolving, vague acquaintances who naturally become more and more entrenched in each other's lives.
The Chemistry Between The Main Characters
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Have him making grand gestures of candlelight dinners and dates at empty amphitheaters. He would make a joke and she would laugh. She would offer her body and he would gladly take it. They would connect, growing closer as each second slipped into weeks, which slipped into years.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Uses non-linear flashbacks to demonstrate just how variable the whole falling-in-love process is. One day a joke makes her giggle; two months later it arouses the bitch eyes. Investment levels in relationships are a lot like Stretch Armstrong, rarely are both people extending their hands the same distance.
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Go acquaintances to dating to girlfriend/ boyfriend to broken up to engaged/ married. They'll slip a little uncertainty in there, but for the most part, a couple is clearly defined as together or not together after the first few dates. Sure, they'll be a rough patch where both parties (briefly) get all Journey on us and go their separate ways, but even broken-up is a clear label assigned to what's going on.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Exists almost entirely in the muck and mire between friendship and a committed relationship. What are Tom and Summer? A boy and a girl who enjoy each other's company--talking, doing activities, fucking in the shower. They don't limit themselves to a platonic connection; yet, they both secretly fear actually discussing what's going on because it could squelch the spark. So, they hang out in the in-between---until they talk about it--and talk about it--and resolve exactly nothing.
Who's More Committed
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Have girl obsessed with boy---until he cheated on her or forgot to pick her up from the airport or got in a fight with her father--at which point she would cry and opt out of the situation until boy wrote a song for her and performed it on an airplane or held a boom box over his head outside her window.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Lets Summer be the one who waffles, the one who isn't sure just how serious she wants to be. Tom takes the stereotypically effeminate approach and asks for consistency and absolute devotion, and she shyly tells him that's the one thing she can't ever give. She's the Sid Vicious---and as much as Tom tries to fight it, he is and will always be the Nancy, at least to Summer.
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Have the male protagonist consistently bloviating to his friends about how far he'd gotten. What did you think would happen tonight? B.J. If I'm being honest, I told my friends I thought I'd get a B.J. Different movies would either fulfill or nullify those expectations, but either way, the audience would overhear them.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Shows Tom's expectations in a brilliant side-by-side comparison of what's actually happening and what he'd hoped would happen. Take careful note of how even his basic movements and facial expressions are altered even by the time she opens the door. It's a wonderful piece of filmmaking, and an ingenious way to unmask the typically introverted Tom.
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Use close-ups, synchronized cuts and altered body language to let the viewer know what band the character was supporting and more than likely, a verbal reason as to why he or she was doing as much. This would be used to either foreshadow an upcoming event or add layers and eccentricity to the main character. Jack Black has on a Metallica shirt because he's a little more edgy than the average teacher.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Never mentions Tom's Joy Division t-shirt he wears both as a little kid and as an adult. It doesn't even fully show his Clash t-shirt; I just know it was a Clash t-shirt because I know people who have that shirt, just as I know it was a Joy Division shirt because one of my coworkers pointed it out to me. It's like Harry Potter---how every character has a personality and backstory, if you ask J.K. Rowling, but the films and even the books don't always feel the need to mention them. Well, Tom is a fully-complex character with his own unique taste and style. He would wear a Joy Division t-shirt, and his friends wouldn't feel the need to comment on it because it's just something he does.
Use Of Narration
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Probably not use a narrator, but if it did, it would speak about the characters as if they were complicated human beings ruled by emotions, hopes and intuitions. Events which happened off-screen would be clarified, the passing of time would be accounted for and all would be wrapped up in a neat little box.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Treats its characters as a curiosity, a rigid study performed by men in coordinated white lab coats with data charts and superior smirks. There's only two types of people in this world: boys and girls the narrator dryly informs the audience, later explaining their views on love through both personality and past digressions. It's like a lot like Little Children but simply targeted on the main characters.
Your Average Romantic Comedy Would… Let its career-driven, working girl suddenly realize being in love is more important or have its shy, innocent female lead tame the unrepentant, womanizing philanderer male protagonist. A valuable lesson would be learned about either opposites attracting or forgiving those you love, and we'd all sail off into the sunset with a group sing-a-long or week at a luxurious, beachfront resort.
But (500) Days Of Summer… Never really lets its main characters break personality. Sure, they influence each other and move a little toward the middle, as all couples do, but their effect on each other is minimal, at least personality-wise. You can learn to chew with your mouth open--but not to totally stop from being impulsive. And thus it is with every relationship, just two alternate personalities trying to coexist and complete each other without ever totally closing the circle.