Keywords: romcom gender roles, gender in film analysis
Narrator: This is a story of boy meets girl…You should know up front, this is not a love story. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) as Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michael Gondry, 2004) is another of these revelations full of originality which differs from the romantic comedy patterns. The film is presented as an alternative romantic comedy mainly because of three main reasons. To begin with, it anticipates to the spectator that the two main characters are not going to finish together, which as we have previously seen breaks the mould of the romantic comedy genre. Then, it introduces to the viewer that the happy ending one usually deduces from romantic comedies it is not going to be seen. Finally there is a variation of the representation of the traditional gender roles of heterosexual relationships.
As the film starts by the omniscient narrator commenting: ‘This is not a love story” The narrative of the film hinges on the central protagonist Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is introduced showing the several flashbacks and flash-forwards of the story of his 500 days with Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Presenting a similar structure to High Fidelity (Stepthen Frears, 2000) or to the already analysed Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind the film has the same nonlinear narrative showing forwards and backwards in the story of the relationship suggesting the image of a puzzle with a few pieces missing. Like Kaufman’s film, this nonlinear story about a romance is told after the couple’s failure however it lacks a component present in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind: it does not present a possible second chance for Tom and Summer.
Reversing gender role of romantic comedy stereotypes. Romantic love (Tom) versus Gidden’s Confluent Love (Summer).
“Romantic comedy is a genre that is commonly labelled as being a women’s genre. Although there are exceptions in the genre, there is usually a heroine who a female viewer can identify and empathise with” (Claire Mortimer, 20).
In contrast to Mortimer’s quote alternative romantic comedies frequently focus on gender role reversals setting out to prove the male hero can be as sensitive and desperate for love as the female characters are as happens in films such as Pagafantas, (Borja Cobeaga, 2009) where Chema (Gorka Otxoa) is madly in love with Claudia (Sabrina Garcianera) but she sees him merely as a friend. In (500) Days of Summer gender reversal is represented through the portrayal of the characters Tom and Summer. In the case of Tom, he has more in common with the heroines of romantic comedies that are hopelessly romantic and desperate to find “the one”, they cannot imagine themselves being happy without a man, too caught up in their obsession with romance to notice the men who could bring it into their lives. Tom totally represents the hopeless and perhaps foolish romantic who believes in love and wants that one great person in his life:
Tom: I love how she makes me feel, like anything’s possible, or like life is worth it.
In relation to this gender role reversal Giddens believes that today, women have a far greater degree of equality: “In the current era, ideals of romantic love tend to fragment under the pressure of female sexual emancipation and autonomy” (Giddens, 1992: 61). It is because of this, that romantic gender roles and expectations in today’s society have changed. This change Giddens refers to is represented in the character of Summer. As it was previously mentioned in the typical romantic comedy women are portrayed as obsessive as the relationship-desperate characters as happens in Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) where during the Civil War Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is desperately in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) who is going to get marry to another woman or as it also occurs in My Best Friend’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan, 1997) where Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) acts as an obsessive and desperate character trying to avoid Michael’s wedding. Summer plays the opposite role to Scarlet and Julianne: she acts as a character that rejects commitment, emotionally withdrawn wrong man usually presented in romantic comedies and looking for a romance with no commitment moving away from the role of the stereotypical heroine in the romantic comedy:
Tom: What happens if you fall in love?
Summer: Well, you don’t believe that, do you?
Tom: It’s love. It’s not Santa Claus.
Tom acts under the influence of romantic pop songs and romantic comedies considering that it is possible for love to exist. “Men, like women, fall in love and have done so throughout the recorded past” (Giddens, 1992:58). Tom is represented as the character who believes in this forever lasting love (romantic love). He still does not realise that love is so much more complicated than his concept of it, and that requires, among other things, the understanding of Summer. In contrast to romantic love, Giddens introduces the term of “confluent love”. He claims that confluent love is active, contingent love, and therefore jars with the “for-ever”, “one-and-only” qualities of the romantic love complex (Giddens, 1992: 61). In relation to this concept Summer is the character that portrays the notion of confluent love. Summer sees the relationship from another perspective far from a traditional model of love: “till death us do part” (Tom) versus “to see how it works and whether it is convenient” (Summer). Although she accepts to begin the relationship she warns Tom that she does not believe in love when she says: “There’s no such thing as love, it’s fantasy…” and does not want a boyfriend, and no matter how intimate they become she insists that they are merely friends: