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(500) Days of Summer Director Marc Webb on the Challenge of Making a Romantic Comedy Without Matthew McConaughey

Marc Webb has directed music videos for everyone from Regina Spektor and My Chemical Romance to Miley Cyrus and Fergie. On Thursday, his film directorial debut, (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, hits theaters. He spoke to Vulture about why Henry V would’ve made a great Apatovian hero and the difficulty of making a romantic comedy without a certain shirtless actor.

Lately, most romantic comedies feel like they’re from another time, or planet…
I know. We’d all had experiences that were never related in films — these sort of weird, ambiguous relationships that happen in your twenties that really help you grow and define you in a certain way. It’s just a different language than, oh, the one Matthew McConaughey did with Sarah Jessica Parker — Zooey was actually in it: Failure to Launch. They’re enjoyable movies, but I don’t feel like they’re real. For us, there was no, “He likes cats; she likes dogs! How will they ever get along?” Just very real, basic situations.

No ambitious magazine assistants who have to choose between career and love.
Exactly. But at the same time, we wanted to use those romantic-comedy conventions. We want people to sit in the theater and have a fun experience. Hopefully, it’s something you could dance to.

You, Joe, and Zooey are all about the same age — and this film feels very generation specific. Did you see it that way?
I’ll stop short of saying it’s all about this moment, but there are a lot of things about this generation that inform it. Cinematically, romantic comedies are born of a different era, when America was wrapping up the frontier era: If you’re not happy in one place, you go find your fortune someplace else, so there’s this happily-ever-after thing. I think nowadays you can’t escape, so you’re forced to have more nuanced, lasting relationships with people. I think people are more comfortable now with not having a happily ever after.

What made you think Gordon-Levitt could play an everyguy?
I had never seen Third Rock From the Sun. I still have not seen a single episode. I had just known him from Mysterious Skin and Brick, one of my favorites, and The Lookout. There’s a brooding quality in Brick, but there’s a very lighthearted, almost whimsical innocence in Mysterious Skin, which is actually the movie I saw that made me think he could do this movie. The list of guys that can make you laugh but also feel like men, it’s a very short list.

His character grows up, but it seems different from the man-child movies out there.
I’d hesitate to call him that, but in a way, you’re totally right. Man-child’s an old archetype: Henry V from fucking Shakespeare is a man-child, right? He’s hanging out with Falstaff and all the guys, and they don’t take responsibility for anything, they’re fucking around, and really he’s the king, he’s got to learn how to be a king — this is an age-old character arc. So I don’t buy into this “adolescence is extending into your twenties” stuff. I think that’s kind of bullshit. Every movie, in some way or another, is a coming-of-age story.

You recently talked to the Playlist about this backlash against “twee” — the Diablo Cody haters and so forth.
Incidentally, I don’t think our movie’s twee. But I get what they’re saying. A lot of romantic comedies are loyal to a form rather than to people’s own experiences. But sentiment doesn’t scare me. I think Juno is a really fucking good movie. To me, it’s sort of a cynical thing, a protectionist stance. And for us, for a movie with this small of a budget and actors that aren’t Matthew McConaughey, we’ll be lucky if we do so well that we get a backlash.

(500) Days of Summer Director Marc Webb on the Challenge of Making a Romantic Comedy Without Matthew McConaughey