When writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber set out to make a film it wasn’t going to be a traditional Hollywood romance with a happy ending — because it was based on Neustadter’s personal experience.
The film opens with a narrator warning us “This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met “the one.” The girl Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) did not share this belief. You should know up front. This is not a love story.” But truth be told, it is a love story, just not the type you might expect.
“This was a relationship I had gone through,” Neustadter said, who stared writing “500 Days of Summer” as therapy and went through the same sort of journey as his protagonist. “Everyone has been on both sides, you’ve liked someone more than they liked you and I’m sure you’ve been liked more than you liked someone and they’re both terrible.” In Neustadter’s case, as in the script, he liked someone a little bit more.
The story centers on the “unruly and unpredictable year-and-a-half of one young man’s no-holds-barred love affair” hence the title. You might think this idea is similar to a million other love stories out there, and perhaps it is, but as with everything it’s all in the telling. Weber and Neustadter wanted to portray romantic idealism in a way that’s never really been seen and they succeed on multiple levels; through the script’s structure, and the way the film is shot — kudos to director Marc Webb for working on the script with the writers and then seamlessly integrating the split screens and elements of animation, which Webb said, “Gave people something which they could have an emotional reaction to and would impart a piece of narrative information, and still be sort of engaging in a visual way.”
Both writers felt that complex editing would help tell what is ultimately a subtle story.
“The idea we had for the screenplay was sort of a romantic comedy meets ‘Memento.’ We wanted to follow a guy sifting through memories of a relationship moving backwards and forwards through time,” Neustadter said.
Jumbling the chronology of events may have been fun for the duo but there was a method to their madness as Weber explained the reason for the atypical sequencing, “That’s how we remember relationships. It’s never linear.” Weber, who had “lost interest in the romantic comedy genre,” wanted to “conjure up a relationship that felt both artful and truthful.”
“The ending of ‘The Graduate’ to me was always, ‘some other person was the answer. Some other person was going to make you happy.’ Benjamin Braddock comes up with this sort of fantastical notion that if he gets this girl he’s gonna be super happy. And he’s on the bus and this thing comes over him which is the notion that maybe this wasn’t the answer and I think that’s what this movie is saying ‘You can’t be looking for ‘it’ in another person. You have to find ‘it’ in yourself before anything else is gonna work out.’”
We’ve all loved and lost, but there’s something beautifully profound in the telling of this film, as if it has a message. Weber said, “The message is hopeful, even if you experience something like this, and it’s incredibly painful, that journey overall is worthwhile.”