People usually talk about “rom-com” this way: the most important is the trip, because the end is evident and well known even before the movie starts. We know than both characters gonna end up together, happy and infatuated no matter what separates them at first, in the middle or even at the end. Even better, if they hate each other or don’t seem to assemble at all, difficulties will even be more interesting.
(I am not gonna talk about this movie because it was less important for me but I could have: Celeste and Jesse forever, by Lee Toland Krieger)
This might be the reason why this type of movies were particularly popular in the nineties and 2000, at a time when we could have had a more optimistic vision of life so we would accept better the identification with characters whom had a very different life from our own. For example I hear a lot about Sex and the City about it. It is true that it seems than lives of these wealthy, sexually liberated New-York women drinking expensive cocktails wearing expensive high heels while dreaming about Big Love had nothing to do with lives of most viewers. They were probably seen less as caricatures and more like potential futures I guess. Nowadays we watch Girls or Game of Thrones and we identify also but it is not such a pleasant thing.
Things have been changing nowadays indeed, with crisis raising, ecological, economical, consciousness and it is a good thing. Could we even talk about sentimental crisis, or even revolution? In this context, rom-coms showing Big Love’s arrival, the One and Only that Will Last Forever and “Olala I was so not expecting this!” are not so accurate anymore. We now watch them with the humid eye of disillusioned cynical guy who still believes in great love although we don’t want to.
But some movies, like the ones I will talk about soon, really got this feeling, this mix between disillusion and hope, and giving a positive response to it. I love them really much because they talk about love, which is always great, on a good way, fitting the time, fitting these feelings of hard choices to do with still light which never goes out, even if we have to go through break ups. And it is even better this way.
Spoiler alert, be aware!
(500) days of Summer, 2009, directed by Marc Webb, starring Joseph Gordon-Lewitt et Zooey Deschanel
It is quite an evident choice I know but still, it was one of the first ones getting out of the main rom-com paradigm : the one saying than characters must always end up together by the end, sharing happily all their significant fluids with each other. And it did it well.
By the way the film is clear about it since the very beginning : “This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”
I love this movie very much since I watched it for the first time a few years ago, I found it at the time having a hard enough vision of love to be realistic, plus having fantastic actors, top directing and an amazing music that kept me obsessed for 5 months.
But is it really that hopeless, vision of love in this movie? We can acknowledge it as both characters, Summer and Tom, don’t end up together at the end. Then I watched in 2014 a video from a French-speaking Youtube channel about it and I changed my mind.
For those whom never saw it, story is about Tom and Summer, two twenty-something who meet at their job. Story is told from Tom’s point of view, a fine young man obsessed by True Love, the one he heard so much about in so many books, songs and movies. Summer at the opposite has more her feet to the ground and doesn’t believe in love since she saw her parents getting divorced. They will date, be in a relationship that Summer will abruptly end up. Tom will be devastated, will try everything to get her back, then to forget her, in order to rebuild himself from scratch. The 500 days from the title are about the time gone between the time they meet until he meets another woman and will be able to symbolically let Summer go thanks to that.
(I still don’t really get the parenthesis in the title though but there is many things in this world I don’t get)
I was also surprised sometimes by what people would think about this movie. Talking about it I realized how important is how you decide to tell a story. In this case it is the chosen point of view that determines how we see the end. This is Tom’s point of view that is used, the one falling in love, projecting himself too much and doesn’t understand why he gets dumped. The one looking so much forward to find Love that he refuses to see that Summer ‘expectations are not matching his. The one who gets disappointed about that. Many people surprised me while blaming Summer to have gone away, saying she has “played” with Tom ‘feelings, although she always said she didn’t want a serious relationship and didn’t believe in love. I wonder what would have happened if roles would have been inverted, if it would have been the woman hoping having found True Love against all evidences and the man running away because he wouldn’t have acknowledged it. Probably I am mean for no reason but something is somehow telling me that everyone would have found it perfectly normal?
But not everything is bad about it because at the end, (500) days of Summer is indeed a movie about great love, just from a different angle. If most rom-coms are focusing on minorities of stories, the most important ones yet the least frequents, this one could actually be an origin story from all the previously quoted. A film about all the ended stories characters had and that we never would show on screen because they happen before the film or during narrative ellipses. The love stories that characters believed in deeply before meeting their true one partner, not anecdotic because there was suffering and were never the focus. This is why it is a movie about passion and love even if the relationship of Tom and Summer doesn’t work out, this is why it is not a rom-com and this is why I wanted to start with it because it is not impossible it influenced the second one. We will never know.
La La Land, 2016, directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
I loved La La Land. Quite original I know, right?
As a friend said, it is only the end giving finally some sense to the movie. Without it we could wonder (and I did) what the story of Mia and Sebastian has that is so special. I am sure all stories are worth to be told, depending how though. An amazing story on paper can give an awful thing on screen and vice-versa. If you think about it, all stories written since Antiquity are always using the same infinitely reusable patterns so the most important is actually the way of telling a story and what it leads to than actual originality in construction.
Obviously La La Land is such a story. Stories of love and career, no matter if they would work out or not, there is plenty. Stories being set in Hollywood glitter and strass, as much. Stories about wannabe actors or musicians that will finally come to success, a lot. Wonderful and visual movies with an incredible direction, a lot of work on colors and so on, we don’t know what to do with them. Tributes to popular film types back in the past, tremendous!
La La Land is all of that too. But in order to come back to the main topic, just as (500) days of Summer, it is romantic love perception that is interesting. The relationship between Mia and Sebastian is quite a classical tale, nothing so special, they both have a dream they have a hard time to reach, they both try to match each other expectations (with the risk of losing themselves on the way), they both try to help each other when hope fades away. Sebastian is strongly supporting Mia’s dream to be an actress, he even goes to pick her in Colorado than she can pass the audition that will make her finally successful. Pursuing their dreams occurs to be romance-incompatible so they will part, with regrets of course, as the epilogue is showing so hardly.
(This epilogue, gosh… I was going through a break-up at the time, I almost cried… oh wait)
And here is what is making their story interesting at the end, retrospectively. As Mia being with another man and mothered a child, we could have thought it should have been this story displayed in the rest of the movie, the one that count, the one when you remain together and make offspring. But La La Land is showing with this end how much our previous stories are building us and it is why it made so many people happy. No matter how long they were or what we kept of material proof of this love. When Mia meets Sebastian she clearly needs someone who believes in her, helps her getting where she has to go, not someone one to settle down and have kids. We know a bit less what Sebastian wants, because we see less of his point of view but he seems the one who suffers more, although he finally gets to open his jazz club. But we feel he would have sacrifice this dream with less regrets in order to keep Mia than she would have been able to do for him. But it doesn’t matter at the end, they both ended up transcended, better than they were before, it changed their lives and they don’t seem bitter about the break-up at the end. They went on and on, just as we do. It is not because you didn’t end up with this person that she was not important to you, actually.
Clearly these 2 movies are not classical happy-endings and it is great because it is so much better this way!
PS: I know it is not the topic but still, big up to Summer and Mia. It is nice to see this heroine generation that prefers to pursue their own dreams instead of a boy, that are not ready to sacrifice everything for love. They choose and they are fine at the end. Same for Tom and Sebastian, heroes that show weaknesses, doubts, sadness and lack of control over their lives, I hope to keep seeing more like them !