SPOILER ALERT: This week's post features spoilers for Paper Heart and 500 Days of Summer. There, I warned you.
This year has seen some great and interesting romantic comedies, including Adventureland, I Love You Man, and Away We Go. The ones I am going to be taking a closer look at, however, are Paper Heart and 500 Days of Summer (although I will not be putting the 500 in parentheses, for they are [ridiculously] unnecessary). These movies both put forward interesting ideas about the idea of love, ideas which stuck with me weeks after seeing them.
Paper Heart stars Charlyne Yi (the Asian stoner girl from Knocked Up) and Michael Cera (Hollywood’s favourite zip-up hoodie enthusiast) in a “documentary” about Charlyne’s quest to find out if love exists. Most of the interviews with real-life couples appear to be unscripted, but the film as a whole is still mostly scripted (and there is even an actor playing the film’s director). The whole thing is excessively postmodern to tell you the truth, and I love that about it. But that’s not the point here.
Charlyne doesn’t believe that love exists, so she decides to make a documentary about what other people feel love is. In the process, she meets Michael, and the documentary starts to follow their relationship while still trying to maintain its original goal of questioning the existence of love.
Charlyne’s confusion as she appears to fall in love for the first time is great to watch, and as far as I’m concerned, true to life. Falling in love for the first time is weird, and you never really know what to think. Charlyne is one of the better on-film examples of this I have seen: nothing about the early stages of a relationship is smooth, and Charlyne’s performance is nothing if not awkward.
The same goes for when there are signs of trouble in her relationship with Michael – she is once again confused and unsure of what to do. While Charlyne does appear to find love, or at least the beginning of love in the movie, Paper Heart conveys the idea that love is a product of fate: Charlyne was just going about living her life when Michael literally walked into it.
Tom Hansen (indie wonderboy Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would surely agree with this idea of love at the beginning of 500 Days of Summer. He seems to believe in true love, and Tom thinks that Summer Finn (indie wondergirl Zooey Deschanel) is that girl for him, even though she refuses to even acknowledge him as her boyfriend. The film is an examination of their whole relationship, from the day they meet until Tom gets over his heartbreak.
Summer is a good character in that she feels like a real person, but she is not a particularly likeable one. It’s hard to articulate how, but I can definitely see how Tom would fall for her. Well, if a girl as gorgeous as her told me that she was a fan of a favourite band of mine, I think I would fall in love with her too. I have, sadly, fallen for a girl’s CD collection before, and it will probably happen again. Certain things can blind you from unlikable elements of a person, and Summer does enough loveable things that Tom can’t see that she is in fact, unlikable.
The most interesting part of 500 Days of Summer is how Tom eventually gets over Summer. When they run into each other and hang out at a wedding months after they broke up, Tom sees a second chance at his true love. In one of the more brilliant scenes I’ve seen in a while (for those that have seen the movie, you should already know I’m talking about the expectations/reality scene), we learn that Tom is wrong, and Summer is done with him for good. Tom’s friends already knew this, and tried to help Tom get over Summer, but of course Tom was blinded by the idea of true love. He has built Summer up into what he wanted her to be, for he no longer has a realistic perspective of who she is (and maybe he never did).
In a memorable monologue, Tom’s friend Paul explains how there are no perfect women, and that his long-term girlfriend is perfect because she is real. While it is unknown whether Tom hears this, his younger sister helps him realize that he made Summer the perfect woman when she never really was. He may have thought she was “the One,” but the people around Tom knew that wasn’t the case.
500 Days of Summer is a hopeful movie, but it does not advocate a belief in fate like Paper Heart does. The ending thought of 500 Days of Summer is that in order to continue living, one has to take control of their own life and avoid being blinded by concepts – if you chalk things up to fate, you will be stuck reliving the same thing for your whole life.
Neither Paper Heart nor 500 Days of Summer are conventional stylistically, but they each have conventional ideas fueling them. I think a choice between which of these movies you like better probably says a lot about what you think of love: Paper Heart is a vote for fate, while 500 Days of Summer says that we have a bit more control over our own lives. To tell you which of these movies I like better would give you far too much insight into who I am*, but just know that these are both good movies that attempt to give their opinion on an unanswerable question. Are you Charlyne, or are you Tom? Either time will give you an answer eventually, or you’ll find out on your own. Good luck.
*and I worry that there are already too many metaphorical cards on the metaphorical table of metaphors.