Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in this modern classicFox Searchlight Pictures

When I was twelve, I watched Marc Webb’s ‘rom-com’ (500) Days of Summer for the first time and was vastly disappointed. I was given no satisfying conclusion to the central on-off relationship between protagonist Tom Hansen, and his dream girl Summer Finn. I thought Summer was a downright bitch and Tom had suffered unduly at her hand. Everything ended up muddled in bitter miscommunication and, in the end, Summer ends up with someone else. Tom finds a new girlfriend. What kind of rom-com ends by splitting up its romantic leads?

"(500) Days of Summer isn’t a rom-com, it’s a coming-of-age film."

When I was twelve, I had enormously idealistic expectations of love. My consumption of romantic media, their fairytale solutions, and idea that things always work out despite the odds, had shaped my perception of the imaginary relationships I was going to have later in life. It wasn’t enough for someone to like you - they had to prove it in grand romantic gestures and stop traffic just to chase after you.  So when (500) Days of Summer didn’t deliver this sugary affectation of love, it made no sense to me. I decided I hated the film and would much prefer watching Notting Hill on a loop than consider all the ways Marc Webb’s film, and its script (penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber), broke apart romantic tropes in favour of the bitter truth.

Tom and Summer at a weddingFox Searchlight Pictures

I didn’t watch (500) Days of Summer again until I was eighteen, after my first significant breakup. It was my first real relationship, after an adolescence spent under the continued guise that love was meant to look like a Jennifer Aniston movie.  I spent a horrible month of prolonged sadness forced to reflect on all the ways they weren’t right for me in the first place. I was with a friend when she asked if we could watch (500) Days of Summer, her favourite film. I agreed, prepared to hate it once more like I had when I was twelve. Instead, I found myself reflected back at me in the way Tom behaves, the mistakes he makes, and how he hurts. I had invested so much in someone who refused to define our relationship, but I was equally angry at myself for getting frustrated when love didn’t match its picture-perfect onscreen counterpart. This naivety mirrors Tom at his worst: immature, in need of growing up. Marc Webb even said that (500) Days of Summer isn’t a rom-com, it’s a coming-of-age film. Summer only appears so mystical because of the idealistic lens through which Tom sees her; through Summer’s unattainability, her intrigue, and the inevitable ways in which she will break his heart, Tom learns what a realistic view of love is.

"I could relate instead to Summer, and how being a woman seems to attract people into your life who want to pigeonhole you as someone who will be significant to them"

There’s a  beautiful moment at the end of (500) Days of Summer when Tom asks Summer why she danced with him at their colleague’s wedding if she was engaged to someone else. She turns to look at him, and says, “Because I wanted to.” When I was younger, I thought this was self-indulgent and manipulative. And maybe it isn’t what everyone would do if confronted with their ex at a romantic event. But Summer was created and written to teach an important lesson to Tom, and all of us: that you can’t decide what people owe you, what they’re going to give you, or what they’ll mean to mean to you. Summer was only ever honest with Tom about what she wanted, but Tom had already decided Summer’s significance in his life without her input - he decided it before they even said two words to each other.


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I watched (500) Days of Summer for the third time two weeks ago, with a much clearer head. I didn’t see myself as strongly in Tom, and the way he barrels headlong into relationships with people who may or not be right for him; I could relate instead to Summer, and how being a woman seems to attract people into your life who want to pigeonhole you as someone who will be significant to them. But mostly, I saw a balance between Summer and Tom, and their yin and yang qualities which dance an uncertain dance throughout the film. Neither character is completely to blame for the errors in their relationship. Summer and Tom are still young, and both are unequipped to deal with another person’s feelings. Tom pushes the relationship forward with the idealistic vigour of a boy who doesn’t understand women; Summer pushes him away like someone with one foot already halfway out the door. Watching now, with a more levelled view of romance in all of its unclassifiable forms, (500) Days of Summer makes so much sense. It is in the small moments with someone - lying in bed, watching a movie, or a stolen kiss in a work copy room - that come to define the way we regard one another. You can’t just remember the good parts of a relationship if you want to be honest with yourself - but you also don’t have to let the bad parts taint your view of love and its possibilities, either. That’s the lesson that both characters ultimately learn, and will continue learning for some time. And whenever I watch (500) Days of Summer, that’s what I will keep learning too.

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