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500 Days With Marc Webb

Dazed speak to the director of the intriguing indie break-up flick 500 Days Of Summer starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

500 Days Of Summer has been described by some critics as Annie Hall for Generation A, while others have called it a thinly veiled and utterly conservative romantic comedy. The truth is that Marc Webb’s directorial debut falls somewhere in between – it's bubblegum but it's got substance, and it contains just enough truth to be intriguing. Chronicling the burgeoning relationship and ensuing fall-out of two very different 20-somethings – happy-go-lucky Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and tortured under-achiever Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – in a series of non-linear vignettes, it’s a film that anyone who has ever embarked on a doomed relationship will be able to relate to (and that’s everyone, right). We cornered the director in a Soho hotel room to find out if he believed in a thing called love…

Dazed Digital: Does the film reflect a trend toward transient relationships?
Marc Webb: I didn’t view it as a societal thing but I do think it’s emblematic of a more casual approach to marriage. There’s a lot of scepticism about marriage because a lot of our parents have got divorced. It can really polarise people – there are the people who put effort into trying to make things work that have this romanticised view of relationships, and on the other side of that are people much more fearful about defining relationships; people with the Summer’s view. That’s what I think is different about this movie; it’s about defining a certain status within a relationship. It used to be that you could date someone, break-up and never see them again but that’s changing – you’re more engaged with people now because of social networking. I think relationships will become more mature because of that. I think people will become more tolerant of ambiguity.

DD: All the characters seem very well-balanced…
Marc Webb: This is a film about people who are going to be okay in the end, and that’s what I liked about the script – it didn’t create problems or issues or rely on some high concept deceipt; it wasn’t a construct to explore things in an abstract way. It’s just the writer (Scott Neustadter) trying to impose meaning on a series of events in his own life that seemingly had no meaning. The stakes are admittedly very low but it’s relatable; it’s got some very real moments in relationships we can all recognise.

DD: Why the non-linear structure?
Marc Webb: We wanted to tell it very much from one person’s point of view and that is formed by this notion of memory. There is a review of this relationship going on and you don’t remember things in a linear way. From a narrative perspective it allows you to analyse the relationship in the same way that Tom is trying to analyse it. There is a theme here about time maturing views of events you may have romanticised. It’s hard for Zooey because she’s playing a subjective view of a character – she’s playing Summer through Tom’s eyes. It was tempting to tell something from her point of view but that‘s not what it’s about.

DD: She is almost the villain of the piece…
Marc Webb: He certainly wants to vilify her but ultimately he realises that’s sort of futile. People react to her character in different ways – people from my parent’s generation are much less sympathetic to her. But if you have ever been on the wild west frontier of singledom in your 20s or 30s then you understand that she is at least being honest. It’s a tricky thing because there are no villains in these situations, although often at times you want there to be.
It’s just that there is a beguiling idea when you are young that you will meet somebody and shit will be solved and you will live happily ever after, and that’s a mythology. To me what is good at the end is that he’s trying to find happiness within. It’s a coming of age story; it’s not a romantic comedy. The movie is marked by these beats – he’s afraid to ask a girl out at the beginning of the movie but by the end of the movie he asks a girl out. That’s a very minor shift but an important one and it’s a way to define masculinity in a way. The truth is that we approached it less about gender and more about youth and maturity. At the beginning of the movie his view of love is a little bit narcissistic and naïve – it’s masquerading as hopeless romanticism, or laziness even. He thinks love will just wash over him. He doesn’t know where to make a stand. At the end of the movie he takes it all like a man, his world doesn’t crumble.

DD: It could be interesting to revive Joseph Gordon-Levitts’s character at 50…
Marc Webb: That would be cool. I would love that.