(500) Days of Summer is my favourite film. I get a lot of stick when I tell people that. Old-school romantics hate (500) for its assertion that we can grow as people through our relationships, even if they aren’t made to last; feminist bloggers just hate our protagonist Tom’s unrequited love interest Summer.
I want to stick up for Summer, because I don’t think she is the product of lazy writing. With a screenplay as smart as this, no line that drops from a character’s mouth is accidental. So why is it that, aside from the small hints dropped that betray a deeper, more conflicted Summer (her dream confession to Tom, her distress on watching the ending of The Graduate), there seems to be so little to her beyond her general kookiness?
One word: perspective. This particular story happens to be told from the perspective of Tom. A male protagonist in the world of romantic comedies is still a relatively rare occurance, and so provides a contrasting POV to your standard run-of-the-mill Katherine Heigl flick. So, let’s analyse Tom as a character.
Tom believes in true love. He believes that when he meets ‘the one’, his life will be given purpose and therefore he will be complete. He works for Clark Gregg as a greetings card writer (hello, novelty movie job!) though his real passions lie elsewhere, in architecture. Tom also happens to be pretty selfish, though you might not have noticed. I’ll let Joseph Gordon-Levitt explain:
“I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life… That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.”
Is it any surprise that Summer wouldn’t want to be with a guy that treats her as an accessory with which to complete himself? A guy that seems to display no interest in her own life plans? A guy that talks about her as a set of pretty features and quirks?
“I’m in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees.”
That’s very sweet Tom, but is there anything beyond the superficial that-
“I love this heart-shaped mark she has on her neck.I love the way she sometimes licks her lips before she talks. I love the sound of her laugh. I love the way she looks when she’s sleeping.”
I guess not.
Over the course of the movie, Tom comes to two realisations: A) He can’t put his happiness in the hands of anyone else; he needs to take control and find it himself, and B) His fantasy woman does not exist. While he starts the film believing that Summer will swoop in and save him, ultimately she doesn’t. She gets on with her own life. Does her rejection then give him the motivation needed to pick himself back up and set out on the right path? Yes. And that’s how life works: shit happens and we try to learn from it.
So stop calling Summer a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Summer doesn’t fit the MPDG mould. She breaks it.