It’s Valentine’s Day, and that means it’s time to watch a cinematic love story with your special someone. Or, it could mean it’s time to watch a cynical film skewering the concept of love if you’re a single person. Lucky for everyone, there’s a film that can cut both ways. Marc Webb describes his film (500) Days of Summer as “a coming-of-age story masquerading as a love story.” This means the romantic in you can find the love story, and the cynic in you can find the character development.
After being a hit at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, (500) Days of Summer went on to become a hit with audiences and critics alike. It struck a chord with people because it was a different approach to a relationship story rather than the standard rom-com. Based in part on one of co-writer Scott Neustadter’s former relationships, this film gets a commentary treatment by the writers, the director, and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
And on to the commentary…
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Commentators: Marc Webb (director), Michael Weber (writer), Scott Neustadter (writer), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (actor)
1. The voice-overs were all done on the first day of production. Whenever they occur in the movie, the film breaks from the POV of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
2. The production had a rule that it would only use buildings that were built before 1950 to give a classic look to the film. Similarly, all the phone rings that were used in the film were from old phones and not digital ring tones.
3. Neustadter claims that approximately 75% of what happens in the film happened in real life with his relationship with “Jenny Beckman,” with whom he still keeps in contact.
4. Tom’s spit-take in the office was filmed three different degrees: small, medium, and large. There continues to be a debate between Webb and the writers as to which one is the most humorous and most real. Other debates continued past the production and into the commentary, including how much inflection Summer (Zooey Deschanel) should put on “good” when asked how her weekend was, as well as whether her final appearance in the film (on the bench) is real or a figment of Tom’s fantasy.
5. Webb made a conscious effort not to vilify Summer, which was a danger because most of the film takes place inside Tom’s head. Additionally, Neustadter originally wrote the story out of hate for “Jenny Beckman,” but he felt the story evolved past that by the time it was finished.
6. Neustadter and Weber had originally scrapped their script, but once they started showing it to people, they found the character of Tom resonated with them because of similar experiences.
7. The studio asked Webb to cut Summer’s line in the karaoke bar about Young Werther. This was a reference to Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is the first unrequited love protagonist in literature. In the end of the book, Werther kills himself, and after the book was published in 1774, there was a rash of copycat suicides.
8. In order to get a PG-13 rating, the word “blowjob” was not allowed in the script. Actor Matthew Gray Gubler had to say “hum job” instead. He was also allowed to say “hand job.” Thanks for the sensible rulings, MPAA…
9. In the production design, the color blue was used to represent love. Red, the traditional color of love, is only seen in one shot of the film, which is in the form of an origami bird on Summer’s tree in her apartment. (It also appears in the final scene as a red blouse on Minka Kelly, but the commentators do not mention this.)
10. Blue was not used for night shots, unlike many films. Instead, night shots were lit with a warm, sodium-vapor look.
11. The commentators recall shots getting the biggest laughs during screening. The first is when Tom sees his reflection as Han Solo in the car window. The second is when Tom and Summer look at the dog poop sculpture at the art gallery. The third is the wedding singer. Neustadter still can’t understand why the wedding singer gets a big laugh. (Hint: It’s because of his crazy-ass hair.)
12. All the dancers in the Best Day Ever dance sequence are wearing blue, the color chosen to represent love in the film. Originally, Hall & Oates (who sing “You Make My Dreams”) were to appear in this sequence, but they opted out.
13. Neustadter’s cousin Adam was the one who came up with the idea of Tom drawing the skyline of downtown L.A. on Summer’s arm.
14. In order to package the film for use on airplanes, the actors had to ADR their lines during the “Penis Game” sequence. Because airlines won’t allow the use of the word “penis” in movies to be played in the cabin, the actors had to say “panda.”
15. Music video and film director Jonas Åkerlund provides the Swedish voice-over in the fake foreign films that take place when Tom fall asleep in the movie theater.
16. Multiple options of Tom’s caustic greeting card poem (“Roses are red, violets are blue. Fuck you, whore.”) were recorded in case the line caused the film to be rated R.
17. While recording the “I Hate Summer” voice-over, Gordon-Levitt says he had a “Christian Bale moment” when he yelled at people next door for making too much noise. He did this because he had stirred up a lot of negative emotions to do the voice-over. There is no word on whether Christian Bale listened to this commentary before he and Gordon-Levitt worked together in The Dark Knight Rises.
18. The studio kept wanting Webb to remove the 16mm interviews with the secondary characters following the wedding scene. However, at the first test screening, Gubler’s line about his girlfriend being better than his dream girl because she’s real convinced them to leave the interviews in.
19. Webb got the directing job about a year before production started, which was an unusually long time. This turned out to be fortuitous as it allowed for greater collaboration with the writers, specifically the “Expectations/Reality” sequence. This part of the film was designed to give the audience hope that Tom and Summer would reconcile while simultaneously revealing that Summer is getting married to someone else.
20. The final shot of the “Expectations/Reality” sequence, in which the world is drawn in pencil and then erased, is a nod to the classic Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Amuck.
21. The film The Graduate is a recurring theme in the film, mainly because Tom misinterprets the ending of the picture. In addition to actually showing footage of the film, it is alluded to with a Mrs. Robinson shot when Summer first goes to bed with Tom, when Summer comes over in the rain after the bar fight, and with the use of Simon & Garfunkle’s song “Bookends.”
22. Like Simon & Garfunkle, many of the bands featured in the soundtrack have broken up, like Tom and Summer.
23. The writers compare the theme of renewal at the end of the film to the election of Barack Obama, who was campaigning at the time of filming and had won election before the movie was released.
24. Although much of the film is about a failed relationship between Neustadter and “Jenny Beckman,” at the time of the commentary’s recording, Neustadter was the only commentator in a serious relationship.
Best in Commentary
- Gordon-Levitt: “I’ve found that the rare and beautiful times in my life that I’ve been in love, is a lot of cliches start sounding true. A lot of really corny songs start sounding very accurate.”
- Webb: “She’s using this honesty as a prophylactic to prevent her from becoming too much of a villain because she’s always honest. She’s always straightforward. She lays it out on the table, and you can’t deny her that integrity.”
- Webb: “Ian Reed Kessler. He was the perfect douche.” Weber: “I like that his character name is really ‘Douche.’” Neustadter: “Zooey must deal with douches like this on a daily basis.” (In regards to the Douche in the bar fight.)
- Neustadter: “I’m so glad we could get a PG-13 rating and still say ‘Fuck you, whore.’ That’s a triumph of something.” Webb: “Because we had to sacrifice ‘blowjob.’”
Personally, I was never a big fan of this film, but it was an interesting commentary to listen to. In addition to a lot of the tidbits of information found above, it was neat to hear the director and writers argue about the meaning of elements of the film and continue to dissect the minutia of line deliveries and sight gags. Unlike a straightforward instructional commentary, this had a compelling back-and-forth with the filmmakers.
Things get a little overly self-congratulatory at the very end (and a little bit creepy as Webb gushes over Minka Kelly), but it only happens for a short period of time. Fans of the film ought to get plenty out of this commentary, especially to hear how things can be interpreted differently, even for the people who were in charge of making the movie.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Or not.