Spoiler warning, as always.
I really can’t think of a non-creepy way to put this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I follow the blog of a couple of high school girls, Leah and Sam (I think they are 17). Before anyone gets the wrong idea, their wordpress is a really well-written and slightly adorable “postaday” blog (at least, it’s postaday when school is running smoothly), nothing suss, and certainly much better than anything that ever appeared on my teenage LiveJournal. Check it out for yourself. Anyway, a few weeks back they had a competition to celebrate 1000 pageviews in which they were giving away two copies of seminal indie romcom  Days of Summer. With the competition about to close, and only one entry having been submitted, I did the math and threw my metaphorical hat in the equally metaphorical ring.
Then, three internet miracles happened: 1. I won a competition. 2. The prize actually arrived at my actual address. 3. The prize was not accompanied by an axe murderer.
Which is all a very long way of saying: I won a DVD, so naturally, I wrote about it. Thanks Leah and Sam!
I must say, watching the film this time around was quite a different experience from my original viewing in 2009. Far from the clever, upbeat, Hall and Oates-filled genre-defying film that I remembered,  Days had me gawking at the screen, barely believing the sexist tripe in front of my eyes. (Side effects of feminism include: inability to enjoy anything ever again, apparently.)
Summer Finn, much like many of Zooey Deschanel’s characters, is popularly referred to as a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. What does that mean, exactly? Generally speaking, it seems to refer to super-hot, man-eating twentysomething women who listen to The Smiths and wear vintage clothing. Clem Bastow wrote an excellent piece earlier this year about how the term is often used to discount these quirky female characters, but the problem with  Days of Summer’s depiction of its titular character goes deeper than the dismissive term usually applied to her.
The film, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, opens with the following:
“NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS A WORK OF FICTION. ANY RESEMBLANCE TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL.
ESPECIALLY YOU JENNY BECKMAN.
The implication is, of course, that the character of Summer, who breaks our hero Tom Hansen’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) heart, is based on this ‘bitch’ in the writers’ past, or at least closely resembles her enough to cause confusion.
From the beginning then, the audience is set up to dislike this character, and to side with the writer-cipher Tom. Our negative opinion of Summer is quickly reinforced by the way Tom and his friends refer to her, even before she has interacted meaningfully with him. She is referred to almost exclusively in negative, sexualised language, which punishes her for not adhering for traditional gender roles, e.g. McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) calls her ”Some uppity, better than everyone superskank” when she fails to talk to some guy in the copy room, and Tom himself calls her a “fucking whore” when he decides – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – that Summer spent her weekend having sex with a wholly imaginary guy she met at a gym. While his assessment is extreme, as our hero we are not really given a reason to question him, and as such, his sexist language is left to further negatively inform our opinion of Summer.
When we do talk to Summer, we quickly discover that she doesn’t have a boyfriend (leaving her dangerously available, sexually). “Don’t really want one,” she tells McKenzie. He doesn’t believe her. When she, in quite a feminist moment, replies “You don’t believe a woman could enjoy being free and independent?”, he literally asks her if she is a lesbian (because all straight girls just want to trap men into relationships, or otherwise mess with them, duh). And then:
No, I’m not a lesbian. I’m just not comfortable being somebody’s “girlfriend.” I don’t want to be anybody’s anything, you know?
I have no idea what you’re talking about.
It sounds selfish, I know, but… I just like being on my own. Relationships are messy and feelings are always getting hurt. Who needs all that? We’re young. We’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I say, let’s have as much fun as we can afford and leave the serious shit for later.
It’s as good (and gender-neutral) an argument for casual sex as any other, but McKenzie (whom we agree with, because he is Tom’s friend) decrees that she must be “a dude”, again signifying her abnormal rejection of gender roles, and handily erasing her feminist identity. Not only does she silently acquiesce to this assessment, that Summer is playing a traditional male role is confirmed when she refers to herself as Sid (horrifyingly, in the context of him stabbing Nancy seven times).
For his part, Tom is also shown to be incorrectly performing his gender. He is referred to as a girl, even Nancy, several times, and he believes in true love, due to his mistaken interpretation of male-sympathetic film The Graduate. Everything about his feminised worldview is wrong, and this is signified by his dead-end job in greeting card writing (instead of a career in architecture, where he could be building penises to the sky!).
The combination of this man-acting woman and woman-acting man, in the film, is a recipe for disaster – for Tom, anyway. Tom becomes an emotional wreck at the hands of Summer’s refusal to fall in love with him, and it causes him to lose his job and sanity. The consequences for Summer of this role reversal are unclear, as the writers treats her wants and desires are nonexistent outside of Tom, but it does become apparent that her nonconformist stance has made her deeply unhappy (she just doesn’t know it yet, typical woman).
Why is Summer such a “bitch”? In the end, it turns out that she had the temerity not to be in love with Tom (HOW DARE SHE) and then turned around and married someone else. As Tom points out, she goes from not wanting to be “anybody’s anything to somebody’s wife”, so quickly that she virtually skips the courtship bit in-between. It is almost implied that this about-turn was made to spite Tom, instead of being her own decision. This final betrayal aside, it is only when Summer and Tom take their “proper”, gender-appropriate places that they are shown to be happy – Summer as a wife who believes in fate, and Tom as a go-getting alpha male. Ultimately,  Days of Summer tells us that being a staunchly feminist woman is all well and good until you fall in love, and that being a romantic man leads only to heartbreak and career failure. Frankly, I expected better from a film that involves a “You Make My Dreams Come True” flashmob.
(Dammit JGL and Hall and Oates, I just can’t quit you.)
Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that the only sensible friend Tom has is his prepubescent sister Rachel Hansen (Chloe Moretz). While Rachel is a female voice that can be reliably depended on, it is telling that she has not yet reached adolescence. This reinforces that it is women’s sexuality (which will come for Rachel later) that leads to the downfall of men. Additionally, she encourages Tom by using typically blokey banter, calling him a “pussy”, or blaming Summer’s reticence on “PMS”. That these sorts of exhortations come from both sexes (and ultimately lead to Tom’s happy ending), sadly, gives them validity.
I think I might just listen to the soundtrack from now on.
RESULT: Upsettingly regressive.
Up next: ‘Feminist Festive Reading’. This is my last substantive post for the year. Next Monday is Christmas Eve, which signifies the beginning of a 10-day-long wine bath for me. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you, dear readers – I’ll be doing a bit of a link roundup, sharing some holiday cheer and my favourite feminist bloggers with you.