There’s a reason why Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman look like they could be playing the same role in their latest releases. It’s the same reason that Sandra Bullock forced marriage upon Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal. That reason is Summer Finn, and depending on who you talk to, they’ll tell you she is one of the most charming and true to life female protagonists in recent years. Or, they’ll tell you she’s a charmless bitch. Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer proved that romantic comedies aren’t a one way street, compulsorily bound towards a grandiose ending. Since Summer, producers have fallen head over heels for independent women. Sort of.
The appeal of Summer was the daring originality her screenwriter afforded her. Yes, she may have been married off within months of leaving poor Joseph Gordon Levitt, but as she openly explained in the film, ‘I knew with him what I was never sure of with you.’ Therein lies 500’s success; realizing that 21st century women aren’t all Carrie Bradshaw’s. The goal doesn’t have to be a man in full tow of your killer Choo’s, but rather the satisfaction of self sufficiency, encapsulated in her Aladdin’s cave of a flat. But Zooey Deschanel’s free spirit isn’t the only unique addition to the staid genre, but also Levitt’s lovelorn lead (Tom). In place of macho cool, Tom’s desperate pining serves to bolster our empathy for Summer. The film captured what other rom-com’s are scared to admit; that sometimes, liking the Smiths is no substitute for what we really want in a partner, and that the reality of unfolding romances will almost never match our rose-tinted expectations of it.
The critical acclaim for the film leaves no surprise then, that copycat films have started to appear. So far though, none of the female leads have exhibited the proverbial balls of Summer. Despite her same year’s Oscar win, Sandra Bullock’s hard nosed editor in The Proposal is unconvincing as a self styled spinster, who falls for dull small town boy Reynolds. The latest addition to the ‘no commitment please’ club is Portman’s shot at Summer, in the less covertly titled ‘No Strings Attached.’ What this spate of wannabe releases shows, is that the rom-com genre has a long way to go until it can script witty, independent ladies outside of the current sex or nothing frame. It confirms that although 500 was a much needed break from the mould, it too has only inspired imitational products that explore the psyche of women no more successfully than that old favourite, Sex and the City.