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16 October 2010 @ 04:50 pm
further thoughts on 500 Days of Summer, not posted by phone  
(I'm using this icon because I sort of feel like Lloyd Dobler--or at least that kind of romantic character--is a ghost haunting this film, in ways I can't articulate at the moment.)

I think it's this, my problem with the film: Tom probably sees himself as a nice guy, but I can't help seeing him as a Nice Guy--the sort who thinks he's somehow entitled to female attention and interest because of his slightly nerdy, Smith-listening, "sensitive" ways (in other words, not like Those Jerks Out There). And I can't tell where the film actually falls in terms of how we're supposed to be perceiving this character. On the one hand, the film seems pretty aware that Tom is frequently ridiculous, and explicitly demonstrates, via split-screen, that his expectations don't necessarily match up with reality. On the other hand, it's a film whose opening words, written out on a black screen, expect the viewer to find some sort of amusement, even if it's partly self-aware, knowing amusement, in the fact that an unknown woman, presumably just out there living her life, is being called a bitch.

I was surprised by how strongly I reacted to that, actually: I'm sure I've seen and heard worse in films. But it was probably the casualness of it that was so disturbing--the nonchalance, the expectation that somewhere, the viewer could sympathize with, or understand, that point of view. And the film's male characters speak the same way. Early on, Tom's friend says, "I hear [Summer's] a bitch." Why is she a bitch? Is it because she's like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada--a "ball-buster" (and there is plenty to be said about the gender issues of that film, too)? No--it's just that "Patel tried to talk to her in the copy room, and she wasn't having it." (Heaven forfend.) Tom sort of weakly offers, "Maybe she was just in a hurry," but his friend counters, "And maybe she's an uppity, better-than-everyone super-skank." She's just failing to make herself available, which makes her the appropriate target for this kind of speech. And Tom doesn't react to his friend's language; he just accepts it as true. "Aw, man...Why is it that pretty girls think they can treat people like crap?" I can only assume that there's a level of ridiculousness that we're supposed to be aware of here, the faintly ludicrous fantasy life that goes on in their heads--as I think we're supposed to react similarly to a later scene in which Tom declares that he "gave Summer plenty of chances," and we see that those "chances" amount to a pretty skeevy sexual proposition (Summer asks them if they need anything from storage, and Tom says, "I think you know what I need," because who wouldn't respond positively to workplace harassment?), and his playing the Smiths ("Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want," of course) really loudly at his desk as she walks by. But the fact that all of this is expressed through casually violent, vitriolic language (and Tom feels utterly free to refer to Summer as a skank, too, because he imagines that she had sex at the weekend with another guy, even though they are not dating, and she has not expressed any interest in him) makes it difficult for me, later in the film, to think I'm watching a movie about a really romantic nice guy who just gets kicked in the teeth by reality, which seems to be the second strand of the way the film presents Tom. It makes me feel as though the filmmakers are aware of his ridiculousness, but not as aware of his misogyny--because it keeps being presented for laughs. (In the same category: the way the film has Tom's little sister tell Tom to "stop being a pussy"--because that's funny, right? He's more girly than a little girl! And she's the kind of girl it's okay to like, because she gets how being all feminine and stuff is ridiculous! Or the fact that when Tom and Summer break up, he starts writing greeting cards that say things like, "Happy Valentine's Day, you whore." Hilarity!)

But it's also that the film keeps moving the markers around. When Tom's friend refers to Summer as a super-skank (don't ask me how her failure to be available gets twisted into hyper-availability, because that never makes sense to me), the terms aren't really up for debate. Summer can prove that she isn't really like that, in the very next scene, because she compliments Tom's music choice voluntarily ("I love the Smiths"), so clearly she's actually nice and available and compatible and all, but this winds up suggesting--to me, anyway--that it's an either-or situation, and the terms get validated by the fact that she can't be included in that category (so she's one of the "good" pretty girls).

When Tom gets in a bar fight "for" Summer, after some guy has been hitting on her and insulting Tom ("I can't believe this guy is your boyfriend"), and she's calmly rejected him, Summer gets angry at how "uncool" Tom was and suggests that his fight was more about his ego than for her benefit, and that she didn't need him to fight for her, anyway. But somehow this turns into an argument about the status of their relationship--that Summer keeps trying to say they're "just friends." Summer isn't allowed to actually be angry that Tom just enacted some seriously regressive stereotype in trying to protect her honor; it's actually a cover for her attempted detachment, because a woman who had accepted Tom as her boyfriend would understand why he got in that fight for her! And Summer shows up at his apartment later to apologize for getting upset, which undercuts any possibility of an alternate point of view on this fight, because she acquiesces to Tom's assertion that her anger is really about something else.

And during the latter half of the film, Tom's reactions to things seem to be accepted by the narrative. His little sister tells him that he's only remembering the good stuff about his relationship with Summer, and that he needs to remember the bad stuff too--and the bad stuff we see is that Summer...hasn't memorized the track listing of a mix he made her and doesn't remember one of the bands? This is supposed to represent a real crack in their relationship, the way that they totally fail to meet up, but all I see is a dude overreacting to a minor non-issue. Which is confusing. Summer says they fight all the time, but we never actually see this. Instead we just see Summer not being amused by the same (slightly twee) stuff she was amused by earlier in the film. There's a bizarre absence here; I don't know what to make of it.

All in all, Tom strikes me as the sort of guy one should stay away from, which is why it's so discordant to me that the film ends on this upbeat note that maybe this time he's found the girl of his dreams--her name is Autumn, because ladies are interchangeable symbols like that, you know--because I find the character underneath the presentable exterior to be pretty off-putting.
Constant Readerskirmish_of_wit on October 16th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
don't ask me how her failure to be available gets twisted into hyper-availability, because that never makes sense to me

"She puts out for EVERYONE EXCEPT ME -- and thus is evil"? That is my best guess whenever I see a comment like that.

I never saw this movie because I was so put off by the ads and by the reviews I read of it on feminist blogs, which hated it for the same reasons you list here. Stupid Manic Pixie Dream Girl fuckery. I don't have energy to deal with that bullshit.
tempestsarekind: gilmore couch potatoestempestsarekind on October 16th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
I think your best guess is probably right, sadly.

I can deal with a certain amount of Manic Pixie Dream Girl stuff, in the right context--I mean, I love Almost Famous--but I was not at all expecting to be hit in the face with the casual misogyny of the characters here.

I hadn't read any reviews of the film because it sounded like something I might enjoy (I like romantic comedies, non-linear storytelling, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Now I sort of wish I'd read about it first!