First-time filmmaker Marc Webb didn’t like romantic comedies. And then he fell in love — with a script.
Webb, a Wisconsin native with a background in music videos, met with producer Mason Novick (“Juno”) a while back to discuss his feature directing debut.
“He gave me a couple of scripts,” remembered Webb, one of which was a romantic comedy entitled “(500) Days of Summer.” “I didn’t read it at first,” he said. “I just put it in my backpack, because that’s not my thing, you know?”
But eventually, he did look at the first few lines of the screenplay, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. It begins with a disclaimer. “Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely accidental. Especially Jenny Beckman. Bitch.”
“I liked that,” he said. “It’s fun, and it says, this movie is going to be a little bit different. You might have to engage a little more.” (Jenny Beckman, he explained, is a pseudonym. He wouldn’t elaborate, but noted that the screenplay was written from the writers’ experiences and that “there are Jenny Beckmans in the world.”)
So began Webb’s journey with “(500) Days of Summer,” the fractured story (its timeline goes forward and backward, like a lighter “Memento”) of a romance between a young man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who writes greeting cards, and a young woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who takes a job at his company. It’s a movie filled with surprises — the first of which was Webb’s own.
“There was an era where (romantic comedies) were incredible, like ‘It Happened One Night’ — they were talking about sexual dynamics, they were saying something meaningful about the time,” Webb said. “But lately it just seems like there’s a form that works and people are more anxious to be loyal to the form than to what the form was designed to illuminate. So what was great about this is that it was told from a very honest place.”
Webb described the movie as “a guy’s point of view on this mess called love or relationships.” He was taken by the way Neustadter and Weber seemed to feel the same way about the romantic-comedy genre as he did — that there really weren’t movies out there that spoke to their experience.
“When you’re a kid, and you’re not an athlete or not super cool, you sort of develop other interests — whether music, culture, theater, whatever — in the hopes that you’ll ensnare the woman of your dreams with your cultural acumen. Sometimes your illusions get crushed. But in every romantic comedy, if you learn to dance and wax your back, you’ll get the model. That’s the theme of these movies, a lot of the time! I’m always thinking, what does this have to do with anything?”
He laughs, wondering aloud if such movies are meant to be Swiftian satire. “I found that a lot of them were just unrelatable.”
“(500) Days of Summer” came together last year, and Webb was delighted by the instant chemistry he saw between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel (who previously shared a screen in “Manic”). He wanted the movie to have a timeless quality, and worked with the designers to create a unique look. “I wanted the whole movie to feel like a storybook left on the shelf for 15 years collecting dust, a little ratty and dog-eared,” he said. None of the clothing was new (everything was “vintage or worn-out or textured”); the use of primary colors was limited to just blue, and that was used only around or on Summer; all of the buildings used were prewar.
The whole design was meant to feel like “something we can dance to,” he said. “I don’t think this is a profoundly probing movie, but it’s a simple movie that speaks a little bit of the truth, and just dances with reality and is fun.”