There's a scene in Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer in which Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) attends a house party thrown by Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) and we see in split screen the difference between his expectations of what will happen at the party (which, more accurately, are his desires) and the reality of it.
Intermittently during Nicholas Jasenovec's faux documentary, Paper Heart, elderly couples recall the stories of when they fell in love or how they first met à la When Harry Met Sally. But instead of simply talking heads, Charlyne Yi, the film's protagonist/subject, recreates these scenes with paper cutout puppets and landscapes.
(500) Days of Summer and Paper Heart are two distinctly different films. The former foregrounds its own artifice, with its broken narrative and fantasy sequences. The latter, while ultimately a pretty thinly-veiled ruse, keeps up the pretense of being a documentary. But in their own way (as in the two episodes above, for example), they find mutual ground, arriving at a similar point about the uniquely nebulous idea of love--or, should I say, LOVE.
In Paper Heart, Charlyne Yi--comedienne and all-around goofy gal--isn't so much in search of love in the same way many of us are. Instead she is looking for some kind, any kind, of definition for love and then whether or not any of that can apply to her. When she meets Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno), the quirkiest of couples emerges and the question of whether true love is in the cards for her is put to the test. In (500) Days of Summer, the question of true love is never in doubt for Tom. True love is the destiny of all, most certainly him. So when Summer floats into his orbit, it's a fait accompli--the two will spend the rest of their lives together. Well, at least he thinks so.
Their stylistic differences aside, on some level these characters are interchangeable. Tom could have easily been wooing Charlyne instead of Summer; and Summer would have been just as reticent to engage in anything serious with Michael as she was with Tom. It is the classic inversion of the gender stereotype--the hopelessly romantic male and the wild, cynical female he attempts to tame. And as both films are essentially false constructs, they point to a fundamental aspect of love--especially to that of love in the movies. Love isn't so much an actual thing, even a feeling, inasmuch as it is itself a construct, no more than an idea that people create in their heads. Like film itself, it's a mere projection. Any number of Summer Finns could have waltzed into Tom Hansen's life and the story would have played out similarly. When Michael enters Charlyne's world, it isn't really their emotional status at stake, it's the movie's. The premise of the film asks whether love has a place in Charlyne's world, not if Michael does.
I'm beginning to think that this is the ultimate fallacy of love. The marginally humble opinion of this writer is that one of the major reasons love tends to fail is that people are unwilling to recognize the large distance between expectation and reality. At their core, both films are significantly more hopeful than this cynical (realistic?) stance, but the inclusion of the episode in (500) Days above or the reenactments in Paper Heart make them more fully engaged with the nuance of adult relationships than most of their mainstream counterparts and, resultingly (or maybe unwittingly), more critical of it. Oh, and they're hilariously funny. What else do you want from a romantic comedy?