Call it beginner’s luck if you want, but debut filmmaker Marc Webb captures everything that’s great about romantic comedies in the first film of his career “500 Days of Summer.”
Originally a music video director, Webb has worked with a number of bands including Santana, Good Charlotte, and Green Day. In “500 Days,” Webb crafts the story around a lovesick young man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose life is spun like a top when he meets a girl named Summer (Zooey Deschanel).
During an interview with me, Webb talked about how “500 Days” is different from other rom-coms of the past and what his true intentions were in making this film.
There have been a handful of offbeat romantic comedies that have hit theaters this summer. How does “500 Days of Summer” stand out from the crowd?
I never thought about it in terms of genre when I was making it. I was just trying to make the best movie possible. It’s always been a coming-of-age story masquerading as a romantic comedy if that makes sense. Even though we are using the romantic comedy set pieces it really is about [Tom] maturing. He has this very romantic and relatable idea of love but it is also very naïve. At the end of the movie, hopefully he learns a little bit about himself.
You’ve said in past interviews that when you read the script for “500 Days of Summer” it was actually like falling in love. Do you think that’s going to have to happen again for your next film or would you be willing to have a few flings along the way until another perfect opportunity presented itself?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. I’m encountering that right now. I think you need that connection. You need that feeling. At the end of the day it’s sort of inexplicable. It’s this gut feeling you get. It’s a compellation of a lot of different things. I imagine part of it is where you are in your life. It’s a very personal thing. In order to make a movie you spend so much time on it. You really have to believe in it and really have to have a crush on it. You spend part of your life of this one thing. In order to give birth to that, it requires so much effort. If you don’t really believe in it it’s useless because there are so many obstacles along the way.
A lot of people can identify with this film because they may have been in relationships like the one Tom and Summer are in. For you, was there something particular you saw in the script that made you think back to a past relationship?
Yeah, the karaoke scene where [Summer] says, “Is that true? Do you like me?” and [Tom] says, “Yeah, of course I like you” and then there’s this award exchange. That is totally relatable. He’s totally excited but also fearful and nervous. It’s those butterflies you get in your stomach. I remember very specifically having some of those feelings.
It was very interesting to me to talk to people about the film afterwards and hear how men and women interpreted the relationship between Tom and Summer. Some saw Tom as a nice guy. Some saw him as too clingy. Some saw Summer as the villain and some saw her as just being a realist. Have you found that it’s easy for people to pick sides?
Yeah, people have really different opinions about both of them. Some people identify with the Summer character. Some people identify with Tom. Some people think that Summer’s a bitch. Some people thing that she’s the more mature of the two. It’s across the map and I love it. I think that’s probably one of the greatest successes of the film. I’m hesitant to call myself an artist, but I will say I think great art yields different conclusions from different viewers. It’s a subjective experience. Personally, I think love is a magnificent powerful thing that can last forever because I’ve seen it before in my life. But I’ve also seen things that fizzle out and are failures. It all goes under the broad label of love and relationships. I think we’re all still trying to figure it out. I don’t know if our movie provides any answers, but it does ask some questions if you dig a little deeper.
So, what do you hope people are thinking about when they come out of the theater?
I’ll be honest about my intention. I want people to come out and say, “You know, I hope [Summer’s] okay. I hope she makes it.” I wanted to put the audience in Tom’s shoes. The story is from Tom’s point-of-view. You can track his emotions. Clearly there are a lot of people that are going to come out of the theater pissed at Summer, but I have great sympathy for her. Zooey and I really loved that character.
You do realize “500 Days of Summer” could be the cause of a lot of arguments if couples come out of the movie with different opinions of the characters.
(Laughs) I think relationships require an open, honest discussion of feelings. If it specifically does that, I’ve done my job.
How were Joseph and Zooey with each other when the cameras weren’t rolling? Did you have any request for them to stay in character at least with each other? Personally, I don’t think a film like this would’ve worked if the two retreated to their separate quarters and didn’t really talk in real life.
I think you’re right. They’ve known each other for like 10 years, so there was really a familiarity there that was built in. Off camera they just sort of hung out. It was actually really magical. I remember even during the first week they’d be listening to the same IPod and having a good time. They were just sweet. It was a little sickening actually (laughs). It was really fun to watch.
How much fun was it to direct that dance sequence? I’m sure your music video background helped a bit.
(Laughs) That was a blast. It was the best day. My parents came down and fell in love with it. I have a rule: if you have either a choreographer or an explosives guy on set it’s usually going to be a good day.