S0, Marc Webb is officially freed from the shackles of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. It’s dead. Unless there is some executive doohickey that contradicts everything we’ve heard about the Sony/Marvel deal, we can forget about it. It’s hard to say what’s next for Webb, whether enough people still have faith in him for him to move forward with a viable career. His last two movies left his creative visions sliced to bits from studio suits; although, it’d be preposterous to ignore decisions he made for the Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man franchise as well.
My love/hate relationship with Marc Webb isn’t a new deal. It started long before he got his messy hands on one of my favorite franchises. It goes back all the way to his first movie, a story about love, called 500 Days of Summer.
Maybe that previous sentence is misleading. Pay attention to what I’m saying. I described 500 Days as a story about love, but that doesn’t make it a love story. I’d like to say it’s a deconstruction of how love stories actually work, but that’s not quite it either. It’s an examination of romantic fantasies. The movie is almost an extension of Tom (JGL owning every problematic nuance the character permeates) and an investigation of how he sees his relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschannel, an unsung hero in rom-coms if ever there was one).
The Tom side of the movie (which is most of the movie) is frustrating. The opening text of the movie calls a woman (who may or may not be real) a bitch. This introduction misleads the audience into believing a specific outcome between our romantic leads. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it lies to the audience, as a narrator explains Tom’s misconstrued reality about love stemming from misunderstanding The Graduate and sad British pop songs. Let’s also not forget JGL himself went on record to tell everyone who saw this movie “Tom is not a role model.”
The rest of the film is filtered through the mind of Tom, which I believe to be the film’s biggest mistake. Tom never looks at a relationship through any eyes other than his own, always searching, crying, and pleading for what makes him happy rather than practicing concern for Summer’s emotional well-being. That’s not love, that’s obsession. Summer is an object of Tom’s affection, but she’s not seen by Tom (and thus, the audience) as his equal. Supporting characters like Tom’s younger sister point out how ridiculous the notion of Tom’s obsession of Summer really is. It’s great that these points are offered, but that offering is rendered moot when flashier scenes paint Tom’s selfishness and one of his particular friend’s sexist comments in a positive light.
There’s a repair attempt, an opportunity for Tom to reconstruct his romantic life from the ground up once he and Summer are officially broken up for good. Tom has time to breathe from his obsession and dusts himself off professionally. When the two run into each other at a bench in LA, Summer is now married and Tom is job hunting. Tom still can’t quite grasp what went wrong in the relationship (because he’s an idiot) but he understands he has to let Summer go on with her life. He is positioned for true character growth. Tom meets a girl at a job interview and asks her out. Her name is Autumn.
The final scene allows two post-credit possibilities: 1) Tom will have grown from his experiences and will approach this suggested new relationship as a mature adult. 2) Tom will fall back into the trappings of his dream girl fantasies with Autumn, he’ll drive her to leave him, and in his despair, he’ll take to Twitter with hashtags like #NotYourShield and try to present his terrible experiences with both women as having something to do with ethics in journalism.
So, that’s Tom’s journey.
Now let’s break down Summer. She’s undoubtedly the strongest part of the movie. Zooey Deschannel is the reigning ruler of the adorkable genre of movies and TV shows, and with good reason (New Girl got good again so we won’t put that as a negative). It’s Summer’s open-mindedness and devotion to herself that has led to characters calling her derogatory names. Again, this stems from the movie’s positioning itself from Tom’s point of view. Summer longs for exploration of open terrain. Tom wants her to stay in the house and make him a sandwich. We, by narrative positioning, stand with Tom.
From the couple’s early romantic entanglement, Summer states “Just so you know, I’m not looking for anything serious.” If she were to never say this line, it would admittedly be a bummer for Tom, but even that doesn’t excuse his calling her a bitch. When one of Tom’s friend’s drunkenly blurts out his disbelief of Summer not having a boyfriend because she doesn’t want one, Summer retorts by saying “You don’t believe that a woman can enjoy being free and independent?” It’s a major highlight of the movie for me as she goes on to explain she has no desire to “belong” to anybody. People shouldn’t belong to other people in romantic relationships; a valid point that’s viewed peripherally because it’s a point that’s offered in Tom’s world but one that doesn’t fit into Tom’s self-fabricated narrative.
If Webb hadn’t intended to illustrate a universal approach of how he think love works, he shouldn’t have decorated his film in constant reference and allusion to other romantic idioms. Even the damn tagline is counterproductive.
For Webb’s first big go-round, he got it half right. 500 Days of Summer might not be as wholly problematic as my impassioned illustration suggests. But it certainly doesn’t go far enough to show the audience how truly misogynistic Tom is throughout. You don’t need a final comeuppance for the character, but good use could certainly be made of a final point to show the true nature of the character (Wolf of Wall Street’s “sell me this pen” ending).
Beneath the tender direction, creative storytelling technique, and charming cinematography (How great is that Expectations vs Reality bit?!), Webb’s movies often get bogged down in male-power fantasies, indulging themselves on hero posturing than proper character exploration. His whole use of these odd choices are worth exploring another day. Until next time, I’ll maintain that Summer is the highlight of Webb’s entire filmography.