Rom-Com Director Looks Forward and Back

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Opening Friday at the Guild 45 and Lincoln Square, the winsome rom-com (500) Days of Summer comes packed full of cute. (Much of that courtesy of Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) Even if not quite a pick in our book (review), it's a film with a lot to like and a lot of facets entertainingly assembled by director Marc Webb in his feature debut. Visiting town for SIFF last month, the music-video veteran explained how the movie does and doesn't incorporate the conventions of an old-fashioned romantic comedy....

"We didn't want to avoid cliches," says Webb ....

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Instead, Webb continues, when it comes to the traditional romantic-comedy formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so on, "We wanted to use the trope. One of our objectives was to make a pop movie that was accessible."

So is (500) Days an indie rom-com?

No, says Webb: "'Indie' is sort of a fake term right now." Sincerity was what he and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber were after: the dewy promise of love and the heartache that follows, rooted in their own dating experience.

Says Webb of the writing process, "We just sat around for like a year and traded war stories. We wanted something that felt honest to us, yet without sacrificing that pop sensibility. Love--often when you talk about it in a movie--can be either oversentimental or brutalized. We wanted to find a happy medium."

He and the writers were determined to avoid the cheap snark of indies and "high-concept deceit" of Hollywood fare. Webb elaborates, "I think people who make romantic comedies lately, they're more loyal to a form and not to a feeling: 'He likes dogs, she likes cats, how will they ever get along?'"

Instead, he says of attractive leads Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt, "Here are these two people, relatively real and relatable, going on a ride that I've been on."

But, he cautions, their romance is "based on a subjective reality--we're telling the story strictly from Tom's point of view. We're obligated to his emotional stare rather than the objective truth of the matter. We see Summer through his eyes. She's a fantasy."

That fantasy corresponds in part to the movie's back-and-forth narrative structure--the date clicker contained with in the titular (500) days; and we definitely don't start at Day 1 or finish at Day 500. This is what Webb calls Tom's "subjective reality--we don't remember things in a linear way."

Fantasy also colors Tom's (and the movie's) enchanted vision of L.A., which Webb allows to be romantic in a way we're unaccustomed to seeing on film.

"What's kind of cool about L.A.," says Webb, is that "downtown Los Angeles is this forgotten place that predates Hollywood. It was just a different era... [with] hope and optimism. I wanted to create a world that felt a little bit timeless. We avoided using any architecture built after 1950. It was all basically prewar Los Angeles, before Bunker Hill got razed. It was fun to create a world inside of world that everyone thinks is Beverly Hills.

"L.A. is made into pastiche all the time. We just wanted to approach it with some sort of love. I really like it. I'm not from there, but I've lived there for 12 years. And Joseph and Zooey are from L.A. And we find ourselves defending it. It's easy to snark on L.A., but there's a lot of interesting things there."

Yet he admits that some snarky, cynical younger viewers may not recognize this romantic L.A., nor the romantic comedy conventions that underlie his movie. This is not the world of booty calls and hook-ups by IM.

"A lot of our audience may not have seen Annie Hall," says Webb. In some ways [(500) Days] is an introductory version of that."

 
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