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Despite an aversion to romantic comedies, Marc Webb was smitten when he read Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber's 500 Days of Summer, which tells the story of the beginning, middle and end of a relationship in a jumbled, aggressively non-linear style. And even though Webb had no intention of dramatically the script, when developing the project he put the whole thing in order.
"I graphed out the 500 days in order, so I would have some sort of idea about the emotional continuity of the scenes," he told me when we spoke at the Fox Searchlight offices earlier this week. And while he said the main reason for making the graph was to help the designers know the seasons and the continuity, a side effect was uncovering the movie's most mysterious character-- the girl of the title, Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel. "It helped me sort of plot out what Summer's story was, which we never explore, very intentionally. It's told from the guy's point of view. But there were certain events in Summer's life that Zooey and I would talk about, and that gave her some architecture which she could hint at and suggest in her performance."
A story about romance that the screenwriters say is secretly a coming of age story, 500 Days of Summer is about a young man, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is enamored with what he knows about love from pop culture, but knows nothing about it in real life. The movie's scattered structure is directly lifted from Tom's memories of his relationship with Summer, leaping from good times to bad as he tries to sort out exactly what went wrong. But despite the movie's high-fantasy trappings-- a dance number featuring an animated bird, a scene in which Tom imagines himself as part of a bleak foreign film-- Webb focused on a much simpler earnestness. "We talked about John Cusack movies, Joe [Gordon-Levitt] and I. I sent Joe home to watch Say Anything and a few other things." And while Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel come with both indie movie and comedy cred, Webb swears that's not what it was about. "The real important part is we wanted to find really good actors who could feel real and relatable. They aren't comedians in that they're searching for the joke in a scene. They're searching for an emotional truth."
Though 500 Days premiered at that independent film bastion Sundance, it has been a Fox Searchlight project from the beginning, and Webb questions attaching the word "indie" to his film at all. "I feel a little weird being labeled that. We are being made by a small studio, but a studio, and it's owned by Fox. What I find is that indie is a shorthand for character-driven movies, or movies that are nontraditional, that don't have a big studio budget. That is important for some people, but I don't think that there's an objective, empirical use of the term indie that we can all agree on." And even though the movie will be characterized by its time-skipping narrative and visual flights of fancy, Webb doesn't see it as a niche movie at all. "I was surprised that no studio wanted to do it. I feel like it's relatable, it's funny, it's easy to get into." "I'm from Wisconsin," he continues, suggesting that his movie wasn't necessarily made for the mid-20s hipsters who so resemble his main characters. "I like people, I know people from different walks of life, and I enjoy human beings as a species. I try not to break it down."