Example Development Notes: 500 Days of Summer

“The story also provides a refreshingly modern outlook on relationships…” Extracts from a script report by our trainee Daniela Piper-Vegh, based on a reading of the script 500 Days of Summer: CLICK HERE to read the script.

TITLE:  500 DAYS OF SUMMER

AUTHOR: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

PREPARED BY: Daniela Piper-Vegh

DATE: 2/19/16

Story Structure:

The story has an engaging opening that builds upon the classic love story set up of ‘boy meets girl’. The narrative shows a quirky self-awareness, alerting the audience that it will not follow the pattern of a conventional love story. The use of numbers on screen, representing the stage of the main couple’s relationship out of a total of 500 days, lets the audience know where they are in the story. It is interesting that the story starts on day 488 and then moves to day 1, as it immediately shows the audience that the story will not follow a typical linear narrative. The non-linear structure does at times make it difficult to follow what is going on. The audience is not able to align themselves with the characters at each of the different stages of their journey, as we already know the outcome of SUMMER FINN breaking up with TOM HANSEN from the start of the script. For instance, when Tom first sees Summer on p.10 it becomes confusing for the audience, as they have already been introduced to both the main characters, and so it is challenging to reverse that introduction and pretend that they are seeing summer for the first time.

There is also a strong indication that the love story is doomed from the very start. In Tom’s first few encounters with Summer, she clearly says she does not want a boyfriend, nor does she believe in love. There is no real suspense in the story, as the audience has been told what to expect from the start. When Summer finds out that Tom likes her on p.32 she immediately tries to get him to agree to being just friends. The audience’s only choice is to hope that Summer will change her mind. However, since she does not change her mind about Tom, the whole story has an anticlimactic feeling. The audience is left disappointed by the lack of inter-personal development, with Summer still not wanting Tom as her boyfriend at the end of the script. The anticlimax is made even stronger by the audience remembering that they were warned from the very start that the main characters would not have a successful relationship.

The story continues to surprise the audience with its use of structure. There is a unique parallel story-telling device used on p.88, where the audience sees two scenarios, one labeled as Tom’s ‘Expectations’ and the other as ‘Reality’. This split screen method allows the audience to clearly see the disparity between the two scenarios, highlighting the shortcomings of Tom’s delusions. The use of the split-screen is particularly effective as it creates a build up to the second-act turning point on p.89, in which Tom finds out that Summer is engaged to someone else. The split-screen device makes this tuning point more dramatic and more visually engaging. Although the turning point is very dramatic, it also makes it seem even more unlikely that Summer will reunite with Tom. It is possible that the audience might start to lose patience with Tom, due to his determination to maintain his delusional outlook and continue to ignore Summer’s clear warnings.

While the dialogue is easy to follow, and laden with amusing repartee, the story feels somewhat disjointed and disparate. The story is made up of lots of small scenes within an overarching relationship. However, due to the non-linear narrative, the scenes do not really follow on from each other and so it becomes difficult to create a cohesive story arc. A lot of the dialogue between Tom and Summer does slightly aimless. The remainder of the emotional content serves as repetition, with each disagreement between the couple reaffirming their incompatibility.  The use of multiple small scenes also means that the audience is not fully engaged in the story, as there are too many pauses and breaks. The action is not given the chance to flow, making it seem too clumsy and strewn together.

 

Characters/ Dialogue:

There is clear character development for both Tom and Summer by p.105. It is sad yet touching that both characters realize that they have changed their minds about love. Tom now believes that everything he previously thought was a lie, and Summer now believes in fate and true love, after having come across her future husband in a chance meeting. It is unfortunate, that whilst both characters have been able to grow and change their perspectives, they are still incompatible. The ending of the script similarly involves a mixture of satisfying yet frustrating outcomes. The audience is happy for Summer, that she has managed to find true love and has surprised herself by finding such steady happiness. The audience is also pleased for Tom, that he finally quit the job he didn’t really want, as is now pursuing his dream of working as an architect. However, there is an overwhelming sadness that the two characters did not manage to find happiness together. Seeing an unsuccessful relationship end, with the two parties going their separate ways is not a very uplifting or wholly satisfying ending for the audience, as they too, like Tom, have grown to expect a typical fairy-tale happy ending. The script is insightful and thought provoking in this respect, as it forces the audience to question their own expectations for love and modern relationships. Despite the fact that the narrator warns that the story will not be a classic love story, the audience ends up wanting a perfect love story, even though they have known all along that it will not happen.

It is also not very convincing that Tom goes to his 12 year old half-sister RACHEL for romantic advice. Even if the point of this relationship is to show how inept Tom is, the fact that he takes her advice is slightly strange. Perhaps it would be more convincing for Tom to receive this advice from his male friends or any other adult source, rather than from an inexperienced child. Although Rachel might represent the younger generation’s more pragmatic and logical approach to romance, Rachel’s frequent reminders that Tom will find someone else, are not very uplifting. Rachel essentially underplays Summer’s importance, attempting to convince Tom that she was not special enough to warrant so much misery from Tom. If Rachel is to be believed, then the whole significance of the story is also undermined. The only way for the audience to stay emotionally invested in the story, is for them to believe, like Tom, that Summer is the perfect partner for him.

 

Overall:

The story follows two interesting and quirky characters are they learn to come to terms with their definitions of love. The story follows the basic pattern of a romantic-comedy closely enough for it to appeal that audience base. However, it also provides a fresh perspective on a well-known formula, by experimenting with the narrative progression. There is strong potential for the audience to become emotionally attached to the characters. The story also provides a refreshingly modern outlook on relationships which only serves to increase its potential for good audience appeal. There is enough emotional conflict to keep the story going, although perhaps more could be made of the supporting cast, in order to add even more conflict.

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