Suck on it, Jenny Beckman

"(500) Days of Summer" scribe Scott Neustadter wreaks vengeance on the ex who broke his heart

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 31, 2009 5:32PM (EDT)

Where would writers be without the people who've done them wrong? Without dysfunctional lovers, bad bosses and explosive partings of the ways, we wouldn’t have “You’re So Vain,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” "I Married a Communist," Dr. Evil or "The Starter Wife," to name but a few of a million examples. Nothing quite takes the sting out of heartache and humiliation like turning your tormentor into a thinly veiled antagonist. So it wasn't surprising when Scott Neustadter, co-writer of the twee anti-romance hit "(500) Days of Summer," fessed up this weekend in the U.K.'s Daily Mail that the movie's titular heartbreaker was based on a real woman. The movie does, after all, start with the warning that "any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch.” Not exactly the sort of thing people say when there are no hard feelings. (Neustadter coyly won't confirm if that's his ex's real name.)

In his Op-Ed, the screenwriter explains that he met the real Summer/Jenny/Miss X as a student at the London School of Economics in 2002. He was rebounding from a bad breakup back home, and promptly fell "crazily, madly, hopelessly in love" with a girl who returned his kisses but not his ardor. It ended, painfully and "unforgettably awful," eventually prompting him to team up with co-writer Michael H. Weber (though not before Neustadter took out his pain on the world by unloading "Pink Panther 2" on us). "The finished film tells it all just as it happened," he says, "however embarrassing my puppy-like devotion and however aloof it makes her look." Today, he's got a hit movie, is two years into a new relationship, and has "never been happier." Take THAT, Jenny!

It must be nice to have all that going for you and to have the Daily Mail hyperbolically refer to your movie as "surely the greatest act of revenge in the history of cinema." But Neustadter admits that when the real Summer read his script, she told him she related to the Tom character, making her either acutely unself-aware or supremely adept at pushing his buttons. And if it's the latter, Neustadter may wish to further consider this. Six years ago Lauren Weisberger turned her stint as an assistant at Vogue into a bestselling roman à clef that became a hit movie, an act of payback right up there with Nora Ephron's scathing divorce saga “Heartburn.”

This weekend, however, Weisberger's Devil herself, Anna Wintour, emerged as the sharp, tough-as-nails, and eminently fascinating hero of a critically acclaimed movie of her own, "The September Issue." It might not be revenge, but it's got to feel a little like vindication. So while Neustadter may be enjoying the box office fruit of his disastrous love affair, somewhere, Jenny Beckman may be quietly banging away on a screenplay called “Some Like It Scott.”

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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