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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘(500) Days’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ feature quirky femmes

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

We are in the midst of midterms. There is always work that should be done or work that should have been done already looming overhead. Although this stresses me out as much as it does anyone else, I find that this is the optimal time to watch movies non-stop. And that is what I’ve been doing; I have watched six movies in the past week: A strange mix ranging from “Pocahantas” to “Titanic,” “Gattaca” to “The Kids Are All Right.” One pair of movies that I can’t get out of my head, though, is “Pretty Woman” and “(500) Days of Summer.”

The premises of these movies could not be any more different. “Pretty Woman,” the 1990 romantic comedy, is about Quirky Prostitute (Julia Roberts), who is picked up by Rich Millionaire (Richard Gere) to play as his date, and then some, for a week. During this week, in the fashion of all rom-coms, they slowly but surely fall in love once you realize that, one, Julia Roberts is a girl who needs some money while figuring her life out (she moved to L.A. to follow her boyfriend!) and, two, Richard Gere has commitment issues (his dad didn’t love him!). Your heart melts, spoiler alert, when Richard Gere overcomes his (what?) fear of heights to meet Julia Roberts at the top of her fire escape.

“(500) Days of Summer” is also a romantic comedy, albeit the indie film brand of rom-com. The movie, released in 2009, describes itself as being “not a love story” due to the fact the movie is about Girl That Wears Retro Dresses (Zooey Deschanel) and Oh So Sensitive Cardigan Boy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)’s deteriorated relationship, depicted by various anachronistic scenes in said relationship. This movie appeals to our generation by how young and hip the former couple is (they had their first date at IKEA!), as well as how appealing Girl That Etc. is to OSSCB (she first kissed him at the office!). You hurt when Zooey Deschanel breaks up with OSSCB (i.e. you) and can’t help but glare at every commercial for “New Girl” for a couple of days after seeing the movie.

Although the movies are not similar at all, they are both successful romantic comedies and there is much to say about the leading femmes. In fact, Quirky Prostitute and Girl That Wears Retro Dresses, both the romantic interests, have too many traits in common. Perhaps this is the secret to the archetypal femme in a successful rom-com?

The role that QP and GTWRD play in the men’s lives is not the same old damsel-in-distress role. In a way, QP and GTWRD are there to “save” the man in question. For example, Quirky Prostitute is introduced to Rich Millionaire who, all his life, has been forced either to work hard or deal with the consequences. As a result, he doesn’t really trust people and treats relationships as thought they’re business deals. When RM meets Quirky Prostitute, it is an actual business deal and thus he feels entitled to get anything he can from her (which, of course, means—dun dun dun—love!). Instead of seeing the business deal as what it was, Rich Millionaire sees this as a way to treat Quirky Prostitute so nicely, she can squeal and freak out about how nice everything he owns is. RM is stuck in a mundane life; Quirky Prostitute is there to save him from that!

Zooey Deschanel plays a similar role in Oh So Sensitive Cardigan Boy’s boring life. “(500) Days of Summer” appeals to viewers because, unlike Rich Millionaire’s struggle, OSSCB’s life is relatable. When the movie begins, OSSCB has given up his architect dreams and settles for a 9-to-5 card-writing job. GTWRD is a distraction for him, similar to how these movies serve as distractions for the viewers, and gives him a purpose in life. Granted, GTWRD does not have much of a personality in the movie other than being a girl who plays hard to get and WRD. This, however, proves to be enough. Though at first OSSCB’s purpose was to court her, once they’re in a relationship, Zooey Deschanel in effect gives him a purpose to “live.” This is seen by how much better at his job he becomes and how he becomes more pleasant to be around. Thus, when Zooey Deschanel, with all her quirks and unpredictableness breaks up with him and OSSCB cries to the Smiths, it is still a victory for him. He has survived it, has gotten stronger and the last scene ends with him applying for an architect job (albeit while meeting another potential romantic pursuit).

“Pretty Woman” and “(500) Days of Summer” both are appealing rom-coms because of how atypical they seem; although both involve girls “falling in love,” they defy the typical ideal of “damsel in distress, prince saves the day.” The archetype of “quirky girl helps man understand life is worth living” is the up-and-coming trope that leads to the new successful rom-com.