In this guest post, Kaite Welsh considers the sexist backstory to (500) Days of Summer
(500) Days of Summer is the latest indie hit about to make it big. Based on the true story of screenwriter Scott Neustadter’s failed relationship, the opening credits insists ‘any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental’ – and then goes and spoils it by finishing with “Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch.”
In today’s Daily Mail, Neustadter reveals the heartbreaking love story behind the film. Or, um, not. “We shared the same taste in books and music,” he reminisces. “That had to mean something, right?” What it meant, apparently, was that he spent months lusting after her – and committing the cardinal sin of subjecting all of their mutual friends to the saga of his unrequited love – only for it to end as badly as he knew it would. She didn’t want to refer to him as her boyfriend – who can blame her? – and the bitterness he still feels spills out into both the article and the film itself. Crushed, his only option was to slink back to the US, tail between his legs, and immortalise her as Zooey Deschanel.
No wonder the film is such a masterpiece of passive-aggressive misogyny. The trailer warns us that Hansen “grew up believing that he would not be truly happy until he found The One. Summer Finn did not share that belief.” The women’s movement that taught Summer to have goals other than a husband is subtly denigrated, and her dislike of traditional relationships is portrayed as a personal flaw of Summer’s – she just doesn’t care enough to keep her man happy, or even to keep him at all. Recklessly pursuing her own life at the expense of the fairytale ending that even men have been conditioned to expect, she’s a Woolf in sheep’s clothing.
Summer has been accused of being the latest in a long line of what blogger Nathan Rabin calls Manic Pixie Dream Girls – sparkly, peppy love interests whose only role is “to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”, and as such get no character development or plotline of their own. In fact, it is her refusal to conform to this mould that makes her the villain of the piece. In his tabloid diatribe, Neusadter implies that her desire to “be her own woman” was selfish, rooted entirely in a desire to act like a man – to be, as she puts it in the film, the Sid Vicious to his Nancy Spungen.
The predominant emotion that comes across is outrage. How dare she not reciprocate his feelings, when he “so desperately, even pathetically, wanted to make [it] work”? About the only thing he gets right is the fact that he was pathetic – the kind of passive aggressive ‘nice guy’ who claims to be content with something, all the while gilt-tripping her over wanting something more. He refuses to take any responsibility for the way the relationship worked out, and despite the fact that he claimed she called all the shots it’s clear that the only person who was really in that relationship was him. It’s another example of a man being confused and frustrated, when the perfect girl he’s put on a pedestal turns out to be a woman as flawed as the rest of us, with thoughts and hopes and dreams all of her own.
The philosophy of the film can be summed up in one line, where another (male) character describes her as “an uppity, better-than-everyone superskank”, managing to imply that she’s both frigid and a whore in one sentence. Now that’s impressive scriptwriting.