This is still such an emotionally charged movie despite my previously claiming to hate it. There were a lot of things I didn’t realize I was claiming to hate because one restrictive gender binary was dictating that I should. Or I felt if I did, I wouldn’t have to look at emotions that made me uncomfortable.
This movie played in the background of the very end of my first adult relationship. It was a rental from the local library so I likely had to drop it off on the way out to my parents’ a task my mother pointed out took all day and after everything, I left my jacket in my old apartment, a failing she addressed in her (albeit personal) diary as though I had done it on purpose.
My initial negative associations were also with someone who worked at the library and was equally supportive and dismissive of my writing career (and any other job I may have been able to get in such a small town). She loved this movie. She hated the book Gone Girl.
Post break up, especially because of some truly bizarre situational parallels, I related a lot more to Amy than to Summer. I was team Amy all the way (a reexamination of that movie is probably next) yet, my wanting to be a twee or manic pixie girl was there, too, an ache which I denied because who, really, admits to wanting to fulfil a sexist and unfair male fantasy?
Amy with her assessment of the ‘cool girl’ which now dominates a lot of online discourse around male-generated fantasy, started to seem a lot more actualized. But I didn’t want to be a sociopath just so I wouldn’t end up dating sociopaths. I had to honestly examine what I found attractive about sociopaths in order to stop dating sociopaths. You know. In theory.
But in the summer (ha) of 2011, I felt all my failings as a desirable female person could be pinned on my lack of twee characteristics. My shoulders were too broad for cute jackets or cardigans and anyway, I was too tall. I was constantly looking for the v neck hipster equivalent but, mostly because of where most of those clothes were made, the shoulders slipped off me awkwardly my arms were way too long.
I had to finally face that I was never going to be a Jess or a Zooey. I was going to have to be, of all the horrible things, myself.
But back when I couldn’t face that, I wrote, not literary revenge porn (well, okay, I did that, too) but a version of myself men would actually like. She was totally boring and agents certainly didn’t care for her. It was only after aligning her more with my real self but also with her own real self, a person with motives similar to but also very different from my own, that she became a real person.
Finally, last year, I got an agent to say they liked both the female characters in my dual narrative equally. She didn’t think much of the book itself but maybe this version will be better. Anyway, that’s another subject for another time, awkward closer.
The reexamination of twee movies have not looked kindly on Summer’s character. She has been labelled a manic pixie dream girl – ironic, considering one of the main points of the movie is to make her, much like Clementine In Eternal Sunshine, a kind of anti manic pixie dream girl, the way John Green allegedly made Alaska.
Maybe a lot of my focus on horror fiction has been to avoid the John Green, Twilight and twee fallout of subsequent years. The novel I ended up with fights more against becoming a retro pastiche to teen dystopian YA novels of the later 2010s than its magical realism/twee roots.
Which might have pleased that one developmental editor who blithely told me all my female characters were sociopaths.
Male, female, or nonbinary, I guess I am fatally attracted to a type. Someone both dangerous because they don’t care about me and safe because they don’t care about me. Which is much preferable to volatile emotions that could erupt because you knocked something over. And you were always knocking things over.
Maybe that’s why Summer at first – because I do believe she is allowed to grow as a character – can’t risk the very thing she ends up with. But honestly who can blame her? After ending things with Tom, she faces vitriol so intense, she is forced to transfer to another branch just like anyone Jim dates on The Office who doesn’t end up being ‘the one.’
Actually, Summer’s framing of this concept of the one as harmful is pretty astute for someone avoiding emotional fallout by refusing to acknowledge their own trauma/ feelings.
Then there’s the theme or: literally anything by Regina Spektor was like the twee anthem-ist, if there were such a thing. Honestly both the poignant song from the beginning credits and the one from the disillusionment montage, like two sides of the indie twee musical coin.
Kind of a throwback for those of us already nostalgic for 90s manic pixie dream artists. Speaking of which, I absolutely promised myself I would see if my friend is still alive using this weird random article about the Fiona Apple mva incident as a segue. I just thought it was so weird anyone was bringing that up and how relevant it felt, despite that I had long since forgotten all about that.
I picked up my phone to do it but I can’t, yet. I mean, if she wanted to talk to me, she would, right? Probably, she is still alive but doesn’t want to deal with me. Unfortunately, if I did have a Summer, it would be her. I relate to Tom because I am also partial to the detached, emotionally unavailable type. Someone who has emotions but they’re just stifled by …whatever. This is also a pretty harmful male driven stereotype. Almost like the virgin lesbian trope. Emotionally, she’s not available to anyone but if you can bring that out of her, well, then she’ll only ever belong to you. Or something.
Yet, I refuse to frame my queerness through male binary tropes. (Even if sometimes, it really seems to fit.) In fact, lately, I have wondered if bisexual women are often inadvertently used as part of some dude’s cool girl trope. She’s so cool! She’ll objectify other women with me and obviously wants to fuck every woman I want to fuck because not only are we the same person, but this guarantees she is not jealous. Only other girls get jealous. She’s not like that!
Moving on, it’s also weird seeing Chloe again, I’ll admit. If I built my one adult character off of Summer, I probably built the younger version of her off Chloe. Chloe’s arc as an actress is especially weird for me because she is presented as sort of an antidote to tweeness but only so long as she doesn’t age – like the character in the unremarkable American version of Let the Right One In.
The second she starts to age, they force her to become a girl, reflected in her arc in the Kick Ass sequel. Even if she doesn’t want to, they have no choice but to shove her into that box. My character, as a grown-up, resisted that box and later I realized she is non binary. But wait, is that because I’m non binary and all my characters have to be me?
I will have to get back to you on that one.
Please wait here.
We finally open on Summer and Tom’s story with a charming homophobic joke about lesbian partnerships. Then the titular character is introduced and we are informed that there are only two genders. And I’m like oh darn! This movie is not written for anyone convinced of anything so ridiculous as more than two genders. Which, right away, leaves me out.
I mean okay so there is definitely the Not Like Other Girls trope at work here. (Wait so are the alleged crimes of the accused being a manic pixie dream girls or not like other girls? Or the special girl trope? There are so many ways to put women down and imply there shouldn’t be any of them in a narrative in any way. Mary Sues, pick me girls, cool girls, not like other girls …Smiths fans?) Do we need to go into that now?
Okay so there’s a sort of joke about this movie in my narrative I never got around to changing. Though I was pretty aware even before the rest of the world caught up (due, at least in part to that Simpsons episode) that he has some problems as a person and artist.
But a lot of my earlier work seemed to be going well (spoilers, it was not because I was a really bad writer) whenever he randomly happened to come on on the internet radio station I listened to a lot at the time. (Probably it was accuradio.) A year later, I got pandora and was introduced to Orion Rigel Dommisse who is a much better muse but the reference to the smiths remains. A relic not just of our values around celebrities and alternative music but this specific era of twee where my setting has now found a permanent home.
It seems fitting.
Then we are introduced to an incel … (best advice, revenge porn your ex into literary fiction, paid for by a woman whose own fiction is constantly shit on and her convenience marriage …not that anyone will ever let u forget that Anais Nin was also not perfect! Also she had abortions)!
(So maybe this is a not like other dudes narrative more than a not like other girls narrative, as it’s told almost entirely through a male lens. It might understand why men do the toxic things they do but it does nothing to alleviate any of the toxicity leading to still more situations like this one.)
But I did always agree with Chloe’s character in that common interests do not equal a soulmate. I want to give that lecture to every dude that starts acting weird around me because ‘girls never like tapes/horror/sov movies/ whatevs’ I mean if you both like the same stuff, there will never be any new perspectives. You may as well date yourself or a mirror.
Plus, I wondered how much that longing is just a sign someone was a sociopath and I should steer clear as they also like to date reflections of themselves. And in a way, this movie was a blueprint to how males claim ownership of women they have no right to, expect things they have no right to expect, and will become a psycho the second you try and tell them you are your own person or assert your own desires or choices.
(I’m sorry but the pixies karaoke scene is still kind of adorbs. Sorry that’s all.)
Honestly, I do think this movie makes some important progress in male female cis hetero relationships. Summer is complex but not mean. She warns the male character she won’t be able to love him. When he chooses of his own free will to not listen, he unfairly punishes her. The movie recognizes that Tom’s attitudes about relationships are unrealistic and confining.
The narrative also implies that Tom’s framing of other women and their style choices as negative are not okay with Summer. Tom is framed as an asshole here. She is equally unimpressed with him resorting to violence. Summer is always clear about her boundaries.
And yet … you can’t escape that despite the film’s best efforts, Summer is still framed as the bad guy who led someone on, who was, to quote Fiona Apple, ‘careless with a delicate man.’
Only, Summer is not careless. She is very careful with Tom.
And he in no way affords her the same respect.
Yet, as awful as he comes off, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect relationships to end with no hurt feelings or resentments. Still, no one deserves ‘fuck you whore’ simply for being honest about what they want and need.
Which ultimately makes the movie and Tom just as unlikeable as they were back in the 2010’s and the framing around Summer is still really unfair somehow. Yet, her reexamination as a twee icon is equally unfair in its own way.
Aside from twee’s obvious problems with inclusion, centering predominantly thin white cisgender women (something which did enormous damage to me, someone who seems to meet at least a few of those criteria) there really isn’t anything wrong with the way Summer (or Zooey, who declared she would be a feminist and wear a godamn hair bow as though that were actually a common criticism …like, wtf, people) dresses.
But she’s right in that there’s nothing wrong with the Elle Woods aesthetic, either and even though there are definite problems with how short the trend cycle has become, I do love that there is room for both and for all aesthetics simultaneously, because I never could make up my mind.