Wanna feel good? Wanna smile? Wanna tap your feet and bop your head, even though you're fully-aware you're aboard a locomotive headed at full-speed toward an impenetrable brick wall? Put on (500) Days of Summer. This may be the most uplifting, upbeat, enjoyable sad break-up movie I've ever seen. It made movie stars out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and features an unforgettable soundtrack that I still listen to while I write to this day.
What inspires me about this film is it's ability to do, frankly, whatever the hell it wants. Director Marc Webb holds little back in constructing a world where our velvet-voiced narrator facilitates the manic, intoxicating joys of falling in love into the spiraling mess that is getting your heart broken. There are split-screen fantasy sequences, characters talk to and wink to the camera, and we bounce back and forth in time, all the while hearing this voice-over guiding us through with finite details, like a cozy bedtime story.
The pinnacle of all the fourth-wall breaking comes after Tom sleeps with Summer for the first time. We follow him outside her apartment the next morning -- a new man, cock of the walk, ear-to-ear smile, brimming with confidence. He looks in a mirror and young Harrison Ford as Han Solo stares back. Then, because it's a movie and it can do whatever the hell it wants, we break out into a joyous dance sequence. I mean, come on... how can you watch this and not have a smile on your face?
This film taught me that while structure and narrative in writing is hugely important, structure simply serves as the skeleton of your story. The rest of the being -- the blood and guts, the skin, the features -- everything else that makes up what it is, well, it's all up to you, the creator. You can do whatever the hell you want. If you want to portray a man falling in love with an elaborate dance to a Hall and Oats classic, even though the film isn't a musical, DO IT. The world you create is yours.
I took the general principal of this film with me when I wrote my last two feature-length scripts, "How to Self-Sabotage in New York City" and "Some Kid I Beat Up in High School". You can take a very real, very upsetting period in your life, go as far as you want with it, and decorate it with whatever absurd charm you want to give it life and heart.
And if you want to talk to the camera? Talk to the camera. If you want to do crazy dream-sequences and do flashbacks within flashbacks? Fuck it, we're all human beings with imaginations. Why can't we create a cinematic world where we get to see our protagonist's daydreams and fantasies and insecurities play out before us?