Great films… 500 Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel who plays Summer in 500 Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel who plays Summer in 500 Days of Summer

This weekend I watched 500 Days of Summer.

Saturday’s viewing of this film was probably the 500th time I’ve seen it too… I have to be honest here, I’m a 500 Days of Summer geek. I know it well, too well. I know the words to each and every song as the film unfolds, I know what line is coming next, it’s all got a little out of hand.

I remember the first time I went to see this film at the cinema. For me, it was one of those rare times you watch a movie and feel so inspired by it that you want to write. I absolutely adored it, and still do.

It was a major inspiration to me when I wrote This is a Love Story, and as TIALS was the first novel I wrote, it brings about very fond memories.

There are so many reasons why I love this film, and here are some of them…

(***WARNING: May contain spoilers***)

1) The whimsical narrative: Richard McGonagle does a great job of saying sweet, simple, and beautiful things about Tom and Summer’s love story as it unfolds against the backdrop of some fabulous plinky plunky music. It’s so honest, well written, and gorgeously quirky. It just works. It’s always stuck in my mind as the kind of narrative voice that would work beautifully in fiction and a great example of the things you can learn while watching films and writing books.

2) Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt: She’s the non-committal, mixed-message giving, mesmerizingly beautiful heroine, he’s the good-looking, painfully shy, and totally adorable lead guy. They work so well together and I can’t imagine a better pairing for this movie. When Zooey and Joseph become Summer and Tom, they act out a story almost everyone can relate to. She’s everyone’s indie girl-crush, he’s so lovely you can’t help but feel she must be a little crazy, and you are desperate to find out how it ends.

3) The soundtrack: From Regina Spektor’s excitable and breathy ‘Us’ to ‘There Goes the Fear’ by Doves, the soundtrack oozes cool, and in my opinion the tracks couldn’t have been picked better for the film. The musical high for me is ‘You Make My Dreams’ by Hall and Oates, and THAT scene in the park (ohhh c’mon, everyone’s been so happy they’ve held a cartoon bluebird in their hand, right?).

4) The mystery: The film shows us enough about Summer to make her loveable and relatable, and yet we never really understand why she is how she is. It keeps you intrigued, while Tom is much more of a open book. The secrets she keeps are continually interesting. Why is she so hard to get close to? Why is she so unpredictable? Why can’t she see what she is doing to Tom?

5) It’s realistic: Tom has fallen in love with Summer. That’s the simple bit. But Summer is as easy to understand as a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing. So Tom does what most people do in his situation, he continually justifies it, despite fighting this inner gut feeling that something isn’t right. It’s so interesting how people do this, they hang on to any thread of positivity they can in the desperate hope that the outcome will be different. It’s common human behaviour, and it fascinates me.

6) The storytelling: 500 Days of Summer is played out in sections that don’t run in chronological order. You only know where you are at through the use of the numbered days in their love story. It’s a really cool way of unravelling a plot. There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful love stories out there, but I adored the style of this one.

7) The role reversal: This isn’t a movie about a neurotic woman crying into her cornflakes over an emotionally unavailable guy who doesn’t give a damn. This film turns all these all too common gender stereotypes upside down, and it’s refreshing. Despite all this, Tom isn’t left looking like an idiot. It’s well done, and it doesn’t make either gender look perpetually stupid. Yes, men do fall in love, and yes, men get upset and misread signals. It doesn’t just happen to women, and that’s absolutely ok.

8) It’s energising: Tom is consistently struggling with his suitcase full of broken dreams. A man who works in the greetings card industry who really wants to be doing something else. He’s clearly talented but it takes for something big to happen before he considers acting on it. Why leave it so long? It’s great to see the change in him, but it also prompts you to think about things you want to achieve and how things can get harder before they get better, and it’s inspiring.

9) The imagery: From Summer’s gorgeously decorated apartment to the places the pair hang out in during their dates, the film is loaded with lovely things to see. Ok, realistically, I don’t know how the characters could afford all the trappings of their beautiful homes given their circumstances, but it sure is inspiring to see. Warning. You may watch this film and have a strong desire to head to your local Ikea/Urban Outfitters/Zara Home and splash out on fabulous accessories.

10) Not all love stories work out as expected: Tom and Summer’s love story is unpredictable, but that’s ok because real life works like that sometimes. The romantic encounters that leave you temporarily suspended in grief and regret can be the ones that teach you the most, and this film encapsulates all that, and how there is always hope after heartbreak.

And there you have it, just some of the many reasons why 500 Days of Summer is one of my favourite films. If you haven’t watched it yet, you know what to do!

From novels to scripts…

Some of you may know that I am studying with the Open University when not writing books.

I started the course after finishing my senior journalism qualifications because I was keen for a new challenge. This can be tough going, but I’m glad I took it on.

My degree so far has involved reading texts, plays and other course materials set by the university. This year however, my course is much more practical, and involves writing for film, radio and television.

Even though I opted into this, it was a decision made with trepidation. I was looking over the course description, knowing it was the right thing to do, while feeling that tiny spark of  ‘Uh oh….. I have no bloody idea what I’m doing’ anxiety.

As writing books is my usual vehicle for creativity, I’m finding this part of my course particularly challenging. When it comes to novels I can write and write for hours. It’s something I’m familiar with, and I feel relatively comfortable doing it as long as I’m all set with the plot and characters.

But script writing, in whatever medium, has been particularly difficult but in the most positive way. The scripts have to be set out a certain format. There are different rules and conventions here, which for me as a writer of long stories was initially like having my wings clipped. I wasn’t very happy about it. How, how, how was I going express all this stuff with just a few lines of dialogue?

Everything changes in script writing. For radio you have to tell a story primarily through sound and dialogue, with none of the long paragraphs dripping in visual imagery that I delight in writing. For film, you have to think of the kinds of shots to use to tell your story, and a long text of thousands of words can be cut significantly to make a scene of just seconds or minutes.

I’ve even had a go at putting a section of my debut novel This is a Love Story into a film script format (I cannot tell you how much I would like to develop this further…). I can’t say it was easy, but a brilliant way to open my mind as a writer to various ways something can be expressed.

Anyway, clearly I’m feeling super inspired by this. It’s great to be introduced to new ways of story telling. The Open University is a brilliant way to study that I would recommend to anyone.

I’m a big fan of TV comedy/sitcoms, from The Mighty Boosh to Girls and Spaced. I’m watching everything from a different viewpoint, picking it apart, and really thinking about how it was created and why everything is done as it is. It’s an exciting thing to learn new methods, even if I am just at the tip of the iceberg of a highly-skilled way of working.

I’d like to hear from fellow writers of novels. Have you written books or long stories and tried turning your work into a script or excerpt for the radio? How have you found it?

My studies are far from being a series of educational hoops I have to jump through in order to achieve an end result. They have turned into something that I hope will influence and inspire future projects and ideas.