As my colleague Charles Linn points out in his hilarious recent blog, Hollywood’s representations of architects always seem to share some common points: As depicted on the big screen, those in this profession have “relationship issues, engage in risky behavior, they're self-destructive, drink too much, and don’t manage their money very well.”
Add one more flic to this list: 500 Days of Summer, where the main character, Tom Hansen (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) displays exactly all those troubled-soul traits—plus he has the other the key characteristics of cinematic architects: very attractive, but decidedly not hyper-masculine; a job that stifles his true creative impulses (in this case he’s a greeting-card writer who studied architecture); and great hair.
Architect-Wanna-Be Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Zooey Deschanel
But while adhering closely to all the Hollywood architect clichés, the movie does throw us a pleasant curveball: His architectural background isn’t just mentioned and forgotten, as it so often is—it actually plays a key role in the plot—and, most amazingly, real-world architects get on-screen props!
The movie’s female star, played by Zooey Deschanel, first falls for him when he takes her on an architectural walking tour of—Los Angeles! “Look up,” he tells her, explaining that’s where the city’s design action is as they pass by the Fine Arts Building (“designed by Walker & Eisner” he casually points out, as my jaw hit the theater’s sticky floor at the attribution).
The Fine Arts Building
He then takes her to a park with the best view of one his favorite structures, the Continental Building: “Los Angeles’ first skyscraper,” he tells her--but unfortunately doesn’t credit architect John Parkinson.
The Continental Building
Lacking a piece of paper, Hansen draws his vision for how he’d change the city on his date’s arm—explaining how he’d “maximize light capacity” and “better integrate the buildings”—naturally, after sweet-nothings like that, she’s head-over-heels for him.
My favorite architectural moments come at the end. After being abruptly dumped, he quits his job and determines to get hired by an architecture firm. His dress immediately changes from the schlubby outfit he wore to the greeting-card gig (and which would have made him right at home at most every architecture firm I’ve visited) to the sort of black suit and skinny tie more befitting a Creative Artists Agency player than your typical CAD monkey.
After dozens of rejections (Cinéma Vérité!), he starts doing a frighteningly detailed cityscape drawing on a chalkboard conveniently located in his apartment—and one briefly wonders if we’re heading into serial-killer territory… but no, his last interview takes place inside the lacework splendor of the Bradbury Building (with no props given to George Wyman). All ends well for our hero: At the interview, he meets a stunningly beautiful...architect.