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(500) Days of Summer, Irony and Parentheses

(500) Days of Summer, Irony and Parentheses

Articles - Moviemaking

On July 22, 2001—a Sunday if I’m not mistaken (and I’m not)—sometime between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), a monumental, cataclysmic, earth-shattering event took place in a restaurant in midtown Manhattan: I got dumped.

Hard.

Being a mature adult, not at all prone to emotional histrionics, I promptly told the girl to lose my number and never call me again. Unless, of course, she was calling to apologize and beg me to take her back. I fully expected her to do that, too; maybe not in the first few days, but surely in the days or weeks to follow. Suffice it to say, she didn’t. And by Christmas, I had no choice but to accept the fact that she and I were finished.

We’d only been dating a couple of months and yet, as so often happens in the wake of such things, I was flooded by some powerful emotions: Hopelessness, crippling inadequacy, the world ending… that sort of thing. I stayed in a lot during those days—listening to The Smiths on a constant loop, watching old French films and lamenting my not being alive in an era that would appreciate me.
In short: I was an asshole.

Now at this time, my friend Michael Weber and I had written one screenplay together, an outlandish and rather inane comedy designed solely to make us both laugh. A few people read it and thought it was funny, but nothing ever happened and that was that. We kept writing, but rarely finished anything we started. Then, after a few aborted attempts to write something big and commercial, my frustration level (coupled with my already gloomy mental state) convinced me that I needed to do something nuts. So I did.

I impulsively quit my job of four years, said goodbye to my friends and family and flew off to London for an indefinite period of time (to “study,” as I told all those concerned).
An amazing thing happened next. Almost instantly upon my arrival, I met someone new. She was smart. She was pretty. She was perfect. And six months later, she dumped the shit out of me.
(500) Days of Summer is the story of those relationships. Or, at least, how I remembered them afterwards. (Okay, fine, how I chose to remember them.) Weber and I always dreamed of writing a romantic comedy like our heroes Cameron Crowe and Woody Allen—one that was relatable and identifiable, where the comedy came from a real place rather than some squirrel attack in the woods; where the obstacle that kept the boy and girl apart was genuine instead of forced and ridiculous (“He likes cats, she likes dogs. How will it ever work!?”). Our aim was simple: Tell the story of a relationship. Make it real, make it funny and try to make it not suck. When I returned from London, now with—count ‘em—two relationship disasters to draw from, we set out to do just that.

(500) Days of Summer is the result. An anatomy of a romance that is equal parts autobiography and fantasy. A pop song in screenplay form.

Of course it never occurred to us, not even for a second, that people might actually want to make this thing. But amazingly, they did. Among them: Passionate producers, a remarkable cast, a stellar crew and a real visionary at the helm in Marc Webb.

The stars aligned, things fell into place and in May of last year, much to our surprise, it actually happened.

The first test screening was held on September 18, 2008. I was completely terrified. Everywhere I looked I saw someone who was going to hate this thing. That guy in the Dodgers jersey—oh man, he’d so rather be watching the game. And that woman with her pantsuit? She’s had a long day, she needs sleep! And this dude with his biker helmet, are you kidding me!? Does he know there are no car chases here? No action sequences or big explosions? That the only pain inflicted is emotional? Oh god, we’re so dead.

As I sat there, horribly stereotyping the assembled crowd, something strange occured: Laughter. At the very first joke. Was it a fluke? No! There was another one!

Arms un-crossed all around me. More laughing. Yes! Girls in my row leaned forward, hanging on every word. “This is really good,” someone behind me whispered. Biker Helmet wiped a tear from his eye (swear to God). And when it was over: Applause.

We’ve had several good screenings since then, but that’s a day I’ll never forget. It’s a strange thing when something that was once so personal only to you becomes personal to somebody else. It’s equally strange when something born so completely out of rejection finds itself so readily embraced. (500) Days of Summer is a lot of things: Funny (hopefully), sad (definitely), peculiar (for sure). There’s music, dancing, split screens, narrators, a cartoon bird (and a huge overuse of parentheses). The one thing there isn’t is irony.

Or so we thought. MM

(500) Days of Summer is in theaters now.

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