(500) Days of Summer and the Difference between Misogyny and Bad Writing
By Dustin Rowles & TK | Miscellaneous | February 5, 2010 |
By Dustin Rowles & TK | Miscellaneous | February 5, 2010 |
Back in April of last year, when Pajiba posted a glowing review for (500) Days of Summer, we anticipated a backlash. We expected that its brand of indie hipsterism, manic cuteness, and its hipster-y soundtrack (The Smiths and Hall & Oates — how so very fucking bohemian) would make it the next Juno, at first loved and then loathed by the masses, who ultimately couldn’t deal with the fact that they were won over by an artificial (though original) language that didn’t involve one-liners and grunts. You know, because the one thing that the majority of people are more threatened by than questions about their sexuality is a fear of being labeled a hipster because a certain movie appealed to them.
We obviously overshot the level at which (500) Days of Summer would be embraced — it gained a modicum of mainstream appeal, but never came close to Juno’s success, falling short of even landing a Best Picture Oscar nomination in a field of ten, settling for a handful of Golden Globe noms and a few nods for JGL and the screenplay from some smaller award outlets.
Yet, while (500) Days never caught on enough to warrant a full-fledged backlash, it has become, to some, the misogynistic film du jour, after EW and Slate picked up on some misogynistic themes last summer, a torch that CHUD’s Devin Faraci has been all to happy to carry, culminating yesterday with some misguided praise for the Oscar snub: “… It’s a misogynistic piece of shit at the end of the day. The film is the howl of a dweeb (or two dweebs, as per the writing credit) who don’t understand women and fear and hate them. Horrible.”
Putting aside Faraci’s subjective characterization of the film as a “piece of shit” (this coming from someone who praised the hell out of G.I. Joe and Watchmen), his use of the word misogyny is troubling here. To be sure, Faraci is not the only critic who has thrown the buzzword around, he’s just the most vocal, having even suggested on Twitter that “a lot of guys sticking up for it don’t have much experience w/ women.”
I have no idea where that impression might come from (more overcompensating, perhaps?), but in our opinion, (500) Days suggests the opposite. Moreover, as we’ve discussed so many times on this site, it suggests a misunderstanding of the term. Misogyny is “contempt or hatred of women.” If (500) Days of Summer is guilty of anything, which we’d dispute, it’s not misogyny — it’s bad writing.
Indeed, this is the problem with the jumping on and off the misogyny bandwagon (Faraci the feminist must have hated Observe and Report, right? Oh wait — he called it “brilliant” and almost perfect, and gave it a 10 out of 10); it’s that misogyny and bad writing are so often confused.
Yes: (500) Days may be guilty of not properly fleshing out the lead female character — Zooey Deschanel plays another variation of her Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But to suggest that the writers — Marc Webb and Scott Neustadter — fear or hate women is absurd. (500) Days is a movie about unbalanced relationships, and anyone who has been in their share of relationships probably understands the unbalanced relationship — it’s the leading cause of break-ups (according to a made-up institution). Most people who have been in enough relationships understand that the dynamic is not always even — as George Constanza once explained, it’s all about the “hand.” In (500) Days, Summer had all the hand. You know who else has all the hand? Twilight’s Bella. Is Stephenie Meyers misogynistic? No. She’s just dumb.
Also: News flash: Relationships often don’t work when one person has all the hand.
If anything, Summer is a strong female character — just a one-dimensional one. That lack of character development was likely intentional — we’re meant to view the relationship from inside Tom Finn’s mind, and one person’s perspective never truly represents what’s really going on in a relationship as a whole. In truth, the film isn’t about Summer. She’s actually a very good character for this movie, and in many ways, a simple one. She’s a girl who doesn’t want a relationship. She’s not particularly bitchy about it, and she’s honest about it from the beginning. She’s one of those people who ends up in a relationship because she’s too lazy NOT to. If anything, Summer is the anti-misogynistic themed woman. She’s stronger and more self-aware than the female leads in most romcoms — but she doesn’t fit into either the conventional cultural ideal, or the cinematic one of the needy dependent girl who just needs a man. The misogyny label here is baffling. It doesn’t make sense.
The point is: Misogyny is a strong word, and it actually does a disservice to the term when it’s bandied about indiscriminately. It takes the sting out. I Spit on Your Grave. Now, that’s a misogynistic movie. So is Captivity. So is The Ugly Truth or even Pretty Woman. Those are movies that actually express contempt or hatred toward women. (500) Days of Summer doesn’t express contempt for women — it presents what is essentially a role reversal. The typical romcom casts the girl as the obsessive, relationship-desperate character, and the only reason that’s frustrating is because they usually fail to flesh out the MAIN characters. Take He’s Just Not That Into You, where Gennifer Goodwin’s character is pathetically rendered, and worse still, ultimately rewarded in the end with the guy she wants. Levitt’s character in (500) Days was refreshingly NOT awarded the girl in the end, precisely because he had to lose her to learn his lesson about creating fantasy relationships in his head and expecting the girl to fit within that framework.
Yes. Summer did control the relationship, but she wasn’t particularly cruel, despite referring to herself as the Sid to his Nancy (misogynistic? No. Emasculating? Perhaps. And good for her). If not being in love with someone you’re dating is cruel, or makes you a bitch, then that means that a whole hell of a lot of us have been cruel bitches at one point or another in our lives.
What’s interesting about Faraci’s comments is that I think it tells a lot about him, or those like him. People who bemoan (500) Days for being misogynistic are using a kind of reverse-sexism. They don’t complain about weak female characters who obsess over strong (and frequently undeserving) males in other movies, but they complain about what is, in essence, an independent female. One can’t help but wonder if the issue is that Tom Finn’s character is the weak one, and having that convention turned on its head is something that, for some strange reason, people have difficulty dealing with, even though it’s not uncommon in the real world. When the girl is the stronger character, they believe she’s being portrayed as the bitch and cry sexism at the filmmakers, which is horseshit. There are plenty of guys who obsess over women and put them on pedestals and want to have a girlfriend more than anything in the world. They meet a girl who dresses a certain way and listens to the same type of music and cocks her head a certain way, and they convince themselves that she’s the one, when all she really is is the foolish ideal that they’ve built in their head. Yes, Summer is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but (500) Days is to be applauded for no reason other than because it showed us that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a crock of shit, and frequently is likely to be more trouble than she’s worth.