how ‘500 days of summer’ highlights the double standards in rom-coms

Spoiler: the men aren’t always what they’re made out to be.

by Georgie Wright
09 August 2018, 2:38pm

500 Days of Summer still 

A few days ago, Joseph Gordon-Levitt replied to a tweet about the somewhat ambiguous breakup in his 2009 rom-com 500 Days of Summer.

The tweet, from a user by the name of @_EmperorJustin_ read, “Still haven’t forgiven Zooey Deschanel for what she did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer”. And Joseph, who played Tom in the film, had some thoughts on the matter.

“Watch it again,” the Inception actor wrote. “It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end.”

The exchange drew attention to one of the fundamental questions underpinning the film -- whose fault was the breakup? To refresh your memory, Zooey Deschanel plays Summer, Joseph plays Tom. They meet at work (a greeting card business), discover they’re into all the same “bizarro crap,” and fall madly in love. They temporarily move into Ikea. They have a fight, make up, then one day Summer flippantly says she doesn’t think it’s working anymore and breaks up with him. That’s on day 290, so there’s still another 210 days to the film, but that’s the day that gets most people.

In one camp, there’s the school of thinking that it is obviously Summer’s fault. She broke up with a decent guy for no apparent reason! Everything was going swimmingly! They both liked sad British pop music! On the other side, there are the people who recognize that Tom was hardly perfect, and Summer was fully within her rights to end it when she felt it wasn’t working.

The Summer-is-at-fault crew typifies the usual reading of characters in pop culture (see also: real life) where we’re much more sympathetic to men than we are women, even if they’re both in the wrong. Even if, in fact, the male is way more in the wrong than the female.

Take The Devil Wears Prada. Nate’s portrayed as the wounded, neglected boyfriend being screwed over by Anne Hathaway’s Andy when, in actual fact, Andy is simply making some personal sacrifices to pursue her career.

Or how about in Love Actually, when your man from The Walking Dead is obsessed with Keira Knightley’s character, who also happens to be his best friend’s wife. He spends the whole wedding taking borderline stalkerish close ups of only her, then later turns up at her doorstep to confess his love via cue cards while her husband -- his best friend, remember -- is in the house.

What even about your rom-com boyfriend Ryan Gosling in La La Land? He plays a jazz snob preoccupied with mansplaining the fundamental importance of jazz to Emma Stone’s character and we are supposed to what -- like him?

Like all the best breakups, there are two sides to every story. Sure, some sweet dialogue and sentimental music may encourage you to side with the good guy (and yes, it is mostly the guys we’re meant to side with). But look beyond the crinkle-eyed smiles, the floppy hair and the way they make even the corniest one-liners sound like the pinnacle of romance, and you’ll see that movie good guys are just like everyone else.

Yes, even Ryan.