Tom actually have good reason to be upset in ‘500 Days of Summer’? Was Henry’s pursuit of Lucy in ‘50 First Dates’ ethical? Two Ringer staffers debate the merits of famous plot points—or entire relationships—while a third settles the case once and for all. When you find the theme week you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. Thankfully, The Ringer hereby dubs this week Rom-Com Week, a celebration of one of the most delightful, captivating genres in film. Head to the top of the Empire State Building, order what she’s having, and join us as we dig into everything the rom-com has had to offer over the years. So far during The Ringer’s Rom-Com Week, we’ve tackled a couple of contentious topics: What are the genre’s greatest movies? And who are its true icons? The answers can lead—and have led—to conflict, which makes sense. Conflict is a defining characteristic of rom-coms, and it often leads to great debate on the part of the audience. In some films, that debate kicks up from the first viewing. Other times, a discussion emerges much later, after people have had time to reflect on what happened.
500 Days of Summer is a perfect example of the latter (and it’s also the movie that inspired this piece). The film seemingly positions Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the clear target of our sympathy, suggesting he was wronged by Summer’s (Zooey Deschanel) refusal to acknowledge their relationship. But in the years after the film’s 2009 release, a new critical consensus emerged: Summer had always been truthful about her intentions; Tom just refused to accept them. To this day, you can find 20-minute-long videos on YouTube debating the merits of both sides of the argument. With that in mind, we decided to take a look back at several other famous rom-coms and debate which plot points—or entire relationships—have been potentially misunderstood. To examine the cases, I recruited my colleagues Claire McNear and Michael Baumann to argue over a few choice examples, and after careful consideration, I will judge once and for all how we should feel about each subject. Are you ready? Let’s begin with the granddaddy of them all.
Summer Was Right, The single funniest moment of 500 Days of Summer comes most of the way through, when a sad-sack, post-breakup Tom agrees to go on a date with a woman named Alison (Rachel Boston) to try to snap him out of his funk. Instead, Tom spends the evening sulking. “There’s two options, really,” he slurs at Alison, already a few sheets to the wind. “Either she’s an evil, emotionless, miserable human being, or she’s a robot.” “Can I ask you a question?” Alison eventually breaks in. “She never cheated on you? She ever steal or take advantage of you in any way? And she told you upfront that she didn’t want a boyfriend?”
Tom Was Right, Tom is fixated on getting Summer to open up and let her guard down, but his entire personality, such as it is, is a set of aesthetic preferences assembled to send a message to … somebody. He’s a millennial who wears sweater vests and Joy Division T-shirts and is into architecture but, like, Beaux-Arts architecture. What a weirdo. The point is, Tom is deeply, profoundly, overridingly insecure. Which doesn’t make his uncertainty and passive-aggressiveness righteous, of course, but at least understandable. Summer, meanwhile, seems to have built her life around the phrase “I don’t want a serious relationship” while behaving in a fashion that bears only a passing resemblance to her stated values. Their fight after Tom decks the finance bro in the bar ends badly for Tom, who seems to be under the impression he can unilaterally declare them to be in a relationship. That’s too far. But up until he crosses that line, he’s right. Are Summer and Tom dating? Perhaps not, but they’re going on lots of dates. And having sex with each other, but no one else. Is monogamy not monogamy if you lie to yourself about it?