500 Days of He's Just Not That Into You

What Women Really Think
July 20 2009 10:53 AM

500 Days of He's Just Not That Into You

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Most everyone who bought a movie ticket this weekend saw Harry Potter , but I want to talk (500) Days of Summer , the new quirky romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that Dana reviewed on Thursday . She compared it to bad champagne: not as good as the good stuff, but better than He's Just Not That Into You . (500) Days wants desperately to be a smarter rom-com, and the effort, so rare, is commendable. But ultimately, (500) Days , like HJNTIY , is merely posing as being insightful about relationships. It's just a bunch of pap-and even worse, pap for women that portrays them as cruel or stupid or both.

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Both films dispense this pseudo-wisdom, though only one does so in tagline form. "He’s just not that into you," preaches the message that, when it comes to men, a woman should not delude herself into thinking she’s special. It’s not that he has to go to a funeral or his cell phone is broken or he’s an emotional basket case: If he doesn't call, he doesn't like you. The movie follows various woman behaving foolishly because they do not "get" this and keep imagining they are the one person in the world a dude will change for. (Jennifer Aniston will get Ben Affleck to marry her; Ginnifer Goodwin will get Justin Long to like her; Jennifer Connelly will keep her husband from smoking/cheating.) Except that at the end of the movie, guess what? The dudes change. Turns out he really is that into you, he just didn’t know it yet. The lesson of this movie is basically, "never give up on your douchebag, even though we just spent the first two hours of this film telling you that’s exactly what you should do." Oops.

The message of (500) Days is that a person can idealize love so completely, he has no idea who he’s in love with. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom falls head over heels for Summer because she likes The Smiths, sings mean karoke, and is as cool and cute as Zooey Deschanel. He’s so smitten, he fails to notice that maybe she’s not.

This set-up could be rich territory for a romantic comedy (about reciprocity, expectations, power, kindness), but as rendered in (500) Days , it just results in a horribly drawn female character, because the filmmaker’s sympathy is so fully with Tom (and the audience’s as well-JGL is, as Dana says, a stone fox and a movie star to boot). There’s no critique of the fact that Tom is totally oblivious to Summer’s inner life, emotions, issues. He’s sweet! He’s in love! How could she not love him back? She really, really should! The fact that she doesn’t love him back (plus a late developing, implausible plot twist) makes her seem unknowable and heartless, even though Tom has never tried to know her-he’s been too busy being in love with her. Even worse, when the film ends, Tom is doing exactly like he always did: falling in love with a new girl because she likes something he likes. He hasn’t changed at all. He’s going to idealize this chick too; the only difference, we’re manipulated to hope, is that this woman will love him blindly back. They’ll be happy in delusionland together, and Tom will never have to learn to be clear-eyed while in love-because, really, that’s just not romantic. In (500) Days ' defense, He’s Just Not That Into You had paper thin chicks and paper thin dudes. (500) Days only has the former. Still, that's not quite good enough.

Photograph of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.