Say Anything… (1989)
Written and Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Another day, another ‘cultural milestone’ that I never got around to seeing. This movie didn’t exactly speak to my generation - I was six when it came out - but it is now regarded as one of the seminal teen movies of all time. It’s sold as a ‘high school movie’ that gave us one of cinema’s most memorable romantic gestures. And anyone who’s selling “Say Anything…” that way is waging a serious misinformation campaign.
John Cusack will forever be defined by his role as Lloyd Dobler. Hell, I knew him as Lloyd Dobler and I didn’t even watch the movie until yesterday. I thought I knew what to expect from his character (and the movie), but I was wrong. Lloyd isn’t a loser, a geek or a misunderstood nice guy. He’s a regular kid who’s graduating from high school and decides to ask out a girl he has a crush on - Diane Court (Ione Skye), the smartest girl in school. Their relationship unfolds over the summer as Lloyd faces questions about his future and Diane prepares to travel to England on a prestigious fellowship.
What I loved about this movie is that it isn’t a ‘teen movie.’ It’s a movie about teenagers, yes, but the story is about people. There’s a difference. The characters in this film aren’t caricatures, which is more than you can say about most movies, especially today. Lloyd and Diane don’t start out as enemies. Diane doesn’t have to go on some journey of self-discovery to realize that she should go out with Lloyd. They’re just two kids who went to the same high school but ran around in different circles. Their budding relationship is filled with the same awkwardness and reticence that a lot of people experience, especially when it’s summer and school is over and no one knows what the future holds.
I identified a lot with this movie. Like Diane, I gave a graduation speech that led to a big punchline, which nobody laughed at. And like Lloyd, I once asked out a popular girl from a different circle. I was in eighth grade, she was one of the most popular girls in school and I was a nobody. And, out of kindness I guess, she said yes. It didn’t really go beyond one awkward movie date, but I recognized Lloyd’s nervous energy, that hesitation before punching the last digit of her phone number and the seemingly endless seconds before someone picks up the phone. And I also recognized the pain that goes with having your heart broken, the long days spent moping around with only your inflated sense of self-importance to keep you company.
But my favorite, favorite discovery about this movie is that the big romantic gesture, the classic cinematic moment that’s been imitated by countless numbers of guys looking to win back their girlfriends’ hearts - doesn’t work! Diane doesn’t come running to the window or bounding down the stairs to embrace Lloyd in a big cinematic climax. She just sits in bed and listens, still confused and uncertain. And Lloyd is just some heartbroken kid with a boombox, some spare D batteries and a Peter Gabriel tape.
The brilliance of “Say Anything…” lies in its ability to make one of civilization’s oldest stories - boy meets girl, they fall in love, they split, they get back together - seem fresh, even 21 years after it was made. It’s hard to believe that just seven years later, Cameron Crowe would redefine adult romance, too, with “Jerry Maguire.”
But there are really no kids or adults (or groupies or rock stars or sports agents) in Crowe’s movies. Just people who refuse to be defined by their role in life. John Cusack and Ione Skye understood this, as did John Mahoney, who’s great as Diane’s concerned but loving single father who has life complications of his own. It’s great that “Say Anything…” has entered the cultural film canon, but I wish it was remembered more for the wonderful complexity of its characters and less for its symbolic images. Maybe I would have seen it sooner.