As unseasonal downpours continue to dampen the country, it seems we are once again left to ponder where summer has gone. For those of you feeling more miffed than usual by the familiarly miserable British weather, however, US director Marc Webb has the perfect remedy. His feature debut, (500) Days of Summer - which was a surprise smash in the US - beamed into UK theatres last week, and the timing couldn’t be better. Part indie rom-com, part coming-of-age fable, Webb’s breakout flick is clever, charming and above all refreshingly unsentimental about young love. At 30 the music video director turned filmmaker knows well the trials of young love, and his educated twist on a clichéd genre that has become soiled by miss-matched A-list pair-offs is sure to stimulate audiences. LWLies sat down with Webb to untangle his bittersweet summer love song.
LWLies: What first made you want to tell this story?
Webb: It was probably, like, three years ago now. I got the script from Mason Novick [the producer] but I dismissed it immediately. I just wasn’t interested in making that kind of movie you know; a rom-com, as I saw it. But the title stayed in my head, so one day I pulled it out and when I put it down something just clicked. I related to the experience of the protagonist, and I also thought it would be a fun movie to make. I was totally engaged with the story.
LWLies: How much did you relate to the title, the notion that every guy has a Summer?
Webb: Deeply. It’s a pretty universal experience, you know: that girl. Although I had a personal connection with the story, it’s something which happens at a certain time in every guy's life, and I felt like as I was getting older I was getting further and further away from that. I think I had enough perspective to be somewhat objective about that, but I was still close enough to remember those feelings. It was a really good time in my life to tell this story.
LWLies: So you don’t think you could have made this film if you were any younger, still in that moment in your life?
Webb: No, I don’t think I would have been comfortable with the conclusion when I was younger. I may be less cynical than I was when I was in my twenties, a little bit more hopeful, but not in the way I thought I would be when I was 17. I’ve definitely grown up to accept things and understand things more than when I was younger.
LWLies: In a sense the film could be viewed as a conventional rom-com, but the non-linear narrative makes it particularly unusual. Were there any difficulties in sticking to such an unconventional structure?
Webb: That actually wasn’t so hard. I actually made a time-line everyone could refer to, but the trick about the non-linear structure is that it’s told from one person’s point of view and it’s very subjective. It’s all coloured by how Tom is viewing these events. When you’re remembering a relationship you don’t think about it in a linear way.
LWLies: Because of the subjective perspective, how conscious were you of balancing the story and the characters, not allowing the film to become weighted towards Tom?
Webb: It’s an interesting thing because it’s told strictly from a guy’s point of view and you don’t have access to Summer’s character, which I think is crucial to the telling of the story. In life you don’t get the other side of things and in order for him to develop as a human he has to come to terms with not fully understanding that, and that’s the trick; how do you deal with that without becoming cynical? At the end of the movie my goal was that you would be rooting for Summer because she represents a contemporary casualness in relationships that is more accepted culturally. People don’t think of the institution of marriage in the same way, and that can cause tension in relationships. That’s really what we wanted to explore here.
LWLies: In that sense it’s certainly a contemporary story, but there are elements of post-modernism in the film also. For example the soundtrack is a mix of contemporary and ’80s music. Could you explain this?
Webb: It’s an organic extension of the film’s central character. I mean Hall & Oates is a short hand for describing joy. It means something to all of us because we hear it and see it in movie trailers, and we use it in the movie because it’s overused; it’s kind of a comment on that joy. The other thing is we wanted the movie to be like a pop song, that’s why we put the parenthesis around the '500', which actually most people don’t get and just think is pretentious, but that’s why we did it. The post-modernism though I think is really about a subjective experience; because Tom’s personal affection towards that kind of music is part of his character. To me it all emanates from this idea of trying to describe an emotion that is so personal but universal at the same time.
LWLies: Without confining it to a traditional genre, how would you define the film?
Webb: It’s a coming of age story masquerading as a romantic comedy. That’s my line on that. Seriously though, it is romantic and I hope it’s funny, but if you look at it as a whole it’s really a coming of age story, a character's maturation as a human.
LWLies: How did you come to work with Joseph and Zooey?
Webb: I met Joseph before I met Zooey and he actually recommended her, so we chased her after that for a while. The thing about Zooey is she’s carved out her own niche, she has her own style and tone, and there really is no one else quite like her. You felt her presence even when she wasn’t on set.
LWLies: You could say Joseph has established himself in a similar way, but his roles have tended to be a lot darker and more dramatic in recent years with Brick and Mysterious Skin. What was it about him that made him fit this role so well for you?
Webb: Mysterious Skin was actually the movie that captured me. There’s a buoyancy in his performance, a childish enthusiasm. Although it’s a brutal movie in terms of what is portrayed, he really smiles in the film.
LWLies: Would you ever consider doing a straight up rom-com?
Webb: Some of my favourite movies are romantic comedies actually, but I just feel like lately they haven’t applied to me personally. At the moment I’m working on an adaptation of a book called The Spectacular Now, which is certainly not a rom-com, but we’ll see.