The 500 Day Problem

Ok.  I have a bone to pick with Hollywood…Not that anyone will read this post but let me pretend for a second that they will.

In 2009 a little independent movie came out called 500 Days of Summer.  (Spoiler). This little film did something very brave.  They were courageous enough to tell a love story that wasn’t THE love story.  The poster even says

‘This is not a love story.  It is a story about love’

So it tells a story about a couple that needed to be together for a period and then needed to say goodbye.  That was perfect.  It was brilliant.  It was brave.

It was also unique…

It also made 7 times it’s budget and cemented it’s 2 leads as stars, and make no mistake it deserved every penny it made.

Unfortunately there is nothing Hollywood loves more than a cloning device trying madly to duplicate any success- especially one that is 60 million dollars of success.

Here’s the thing.  The reason that ending worked for 500 Days of Summer is that they were legitimately wrong for each other.  It was the happy ending to have the couple split.

Normally that is not what I want out of a romantic plot line in a story.  I can’t believe I actually have to say this out loud but I generally want the couple we are told are going to get together to actually get together!  And it does not make you a better writer or director or producer because you surprise me with a break up or the couple you have been telling me are wrong for each other actually get together.  That is the opposite of what 500 Days of Summer did.

500 Days also made it clear from reel one that this was a different kind of story.

As viewers we are prepared for a non-traditional ending.  In fact, we know that Tom believes when he finds ‘The One’ he will be happy.  That is a pretty clear sign that he probably won’t be and that he’s going to learn a little bit about happiness. So again, as viewers we are prepared for a unique film and if Summer and Tom had gotten together at the end I would have been seriously ticked off.  I would feel cheated.

The writers would have wimped out on their promise from reel one and nothing ticks me off more than that…hmmm I wonder what has happened recently where writers promised one thing on day one and then wimped out on the ending? 😉

It’s not just How I Met Your Mother but I’ve seen it so many times lately.  I was watching TV yesterday and there it was again.  The bittersweet break up.  The writers of that show made us wait 4 months for a couple to get together, gave us 1 episode and then the break up.  I wanted to scream.  Stop it!

Stop leading us to love and then stomping all over it.  Given only 2 romantic comedies came out last year and both were stinkers I’m beginning to wonder if Hollywood knows how to write romance any more?  It’s really not that hard.  Go into a typical bookstore and you will find shelves after shelves of romantic stories.  Why?  Because people like them!  People like me!

The other thing we like is seeing our characters happy.  If you have spent 9 years convincing us a character is bad for another person don’t have them end up together.  We won’t like it….I digress (it’s still tough guys).

I’m actually getting to the point where I resent 500 Days of Summer because I can’t take the copy-cats.  As I said, the characters in 500 were happy in the end.  We want our characters to be happy and most of the time that involves finding true love.  I mean are we so jaded as a culture that we don’t believe in love? We don’t believe everyone can have a great love story?

I mean thank goodness for Frozen.  At least Disney hasn’t lost a happy ending for its heroines but I’m telling you if I see an animated bittersweet ending I think I will scream.

Please take a lesson from 500 Days of Summer and actually give what you say you are going to give.  Actually tell the story you promise to tell and if that naturally ends in your characters falling in love and being happy that’s ok.  That usually happens to most of us, or so I am told…I promise I will not think less of your writing skills because you have the courage to have a happy ending. I promise!

In fact, my favorite movie of all time tells the perfect love story in the first 5 minutes.  It is predictable and sappy but oh how moving.  Life and death can be bittersweet enough on their own.

Just tell the story you have promised to tell.

Ok. Rant done. Do any trends like this make you nuts?


7 thoughts on “The 500 Day Problem

    1. Thanks! That’s exactly right. One of the greatest parts of storytelling is the fantasy aspect. We live in the real world so most of us want to get away from it with stories. I really miss the romcom. It needs a comeback!

  1. My wife and I absolutely love 500 days of summer. The only thing I would add to what you had to say is that these days there is a lack of originality and I think that stems from fear. Movies are expensive and nobody wants to risk any money on an original idea.

    1. Thank you for that comment.
      That’s right. It is fear. I agree. Nobody is willing to take any risk. Even in publishing. That’s why you saw a million love triangle supernatural books after twilight.
      I love 500 Days of Summer but they fulfilled the promise they had given us for the story. Plus, it was so inventive in other ways that it helps you forgive an non-traditional beginning and ending.

    2. The more I think about it the more fulfilling your story promises applies to lots of genres not just romances. For example, nearly every worst of list I saw last year had Die Hard 5 on it. People were upset because it didn’t have any real action in it. Evidently not one fight scene.

      People go to a love story with certain expectations and they go to an action movie with certain expectations for the story we are going to get. Occasionally something will subvert those expectations and work but it’s a tricky business. Most of the time we want the story that they promise to give us (and like I said in 500 Days of Summer they did give us the story they promised from line 1).

      I see this in books, movies, TV, any time there is a story some writers will think they are more clever than their audience and it almost never works.

  2. I’ve been meaning to see 500 Days for just the reasons you give. Now I need to make it a priority! And I do think the first 5 minutes of Up tells a beautiful love story, but I can never watch it. It rips my heart out every time. 😉

    1. I hope I didn’t spoil it for you (I did warn you at the beginning). I have seen that beginning of Up 100 times and it never fails to make me cry. The reason I think that is important is that a story couldn’t be more traditional or unexpected but it moves me. There is power in telling the story you promise to tell but using your artistry and words to make the familiar beautiful.
      Even something like The Book Thief which is so challenging in it’s style still completely delivers on it’s promises. I’ve always said in that book the tears are earned. You cry because you love the people so much. It’s the same way with the montage in Up.
      500 Days of Summer also totally earns it’s emotions but the copycats almost never do, leaving the viewer feeling cheated and tricked out of the ending they were promised and that is incredibly frustrating.

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