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Growing Up is Realizing “(500) Days of Summer” is Problematic AF

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kutztown chapter.

The other day, I found myself thinking about the movie, (500) Days of Summer.  I remember in 2009, it was all the rage.  I loved it, my friends loved it and the mainstream devoured it.  What wasn’t to love: bright and flashy scene changes, choreographed dance sequences with a cool hipster soundtrack…man, those were the days.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel were so enchanting together, eventually leaving audiences devastated in the wake of their breakup.  

It was easy to get caught up in Jo Go’s character.  Tom was charming, relatable, and the most common rom com trope of all time: a nice guy.  I’ve always loved romantic comedies, they made me laugh and I was all for the idea of people ending up together.  The hopeless romantic inside me would cheer every time the couple overcame their adversity, but I never realized how much these movies were brainwashing me.

Let’s talk about the archetype of the nice guy for a moment.  A nice guy typically wants to meet the girl of his dreams, fall madly in love with her and her perfect personality, but is discouraged when she doesn’t want to fit into the neat little box he created for her.  The nice guy often feels as though he is the perfect match for anyone, he’s a catch, so to speak.  I was rooting for Tom and Summer.  I felt their personalities were super compatible and I was blinded by Tom’s vision of her, not seeing how much that pedestal was making her uncomfortable.

I also made a huge mistake when I watched this for the first time.  I was reeling from a chaotic breakup and I just wanted to watch a movie, so why not this critically acclaimed film starring two actors I love?  I texted a friend of mine about halfway through the film, in tears, informing them of my mistake.  This lead to them yelling at me very loudly, with good reason.  I shouldn’t have been watching it, especially following a breakup, but what’s worse is that the writers won.  I was ensnared in their web.

I don’t know if I would call (500) Days a misogynist film, but it’s certainly not gunning for equality either.  Tom never holds himself accountable once, rather he blames Summer at every turn.  A particular example I always come back to is in the sequence where he lists the features which make her perfect: her hair, teeth, smile, face, etc.  Typical.  By the end of the film, this sequence is mirrored, but Tom now works to negate everything he found so special about her.  This movie isn’t about hating women, but is still very misguided.

Yet, on the other hand, there are moments of possible self awareness which contrast the less desirable sections of the script.  Tom’s sister Rachel (Chloe Grace-Moretz) serves as a voice of reason against his puppy-dog crush, but the sentiment doesn’t feel genuine.  This is no fault of Moretz’s, but of the writers.  Even Summer, a complex and human character, was twisted around to appear as the bad guy when it is revealed she has married.  We are made to resent her and it sets her up for dehumanization no matter what she does.

It also brought to mind what the writer/director did to The Amazing Spider-Man.  I was on board at first.  It was pretty, great actors and for once seemed to be following some canon.  On that surface it felt pure, yet as I pulled back the layers, I saw a gross dehumanization of Gwen Stacey’s character.  The complicated dynamic of Peter and Gwen’s comic book romance was sugarcoated for the sake of a fun high school cat and mouse in Marc Webb’s eyes.  It felt very (Joss) Whedon-esque.

Perhaps the underhanded sexism of (500) Days was intentional.  Maybe they wanted people to pick it apart and reveal the ugly double standards beneath, but it just doesn’t feel that simple.  The steps taken were too clumsy and the tone comes off as bitter, as though the film were made to get back at an ex.  It’s practically stated in the opening credits.  I can’t help but shake the feeling of toxicity toward Summer and the more I think about it, the sadder it makes me.  Perhaps growing up is realizing the film isn’t as progressive as I thought when I was 16.

Salutations! My name is Tyler and welcome to my HerCampus page. Within, you will find all manner of conversations concerning gender, identity, as well critiques and challenges of toxic masculinity and male privilege. I also discuss trans rights, and highlight some books/media by creators outside of the straight white canon. I hope you find something you like!