Say Anything… (1989)

Directed by Cameron Crowe

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Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything… is almost anarchic in its sincerity.  It’s earnest, direct and yet doesn’t cut corners with its love story or belittle the audience’s intelligence.  We meet a young man, Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) on the fringes of the high school social hierarchy, and his love interest, Diane Court (Ione Skye), the Lisa Simpson of the bunch.  They would seem to come from different orbits, different economic backgrounds, and the assumption is that they will eventually break up due to these outside influences, i.e. Romeo & Juliet.

Except that’s not what happens.  Lloyd and Diane are their own people, with their own goals, fears, strengths and shortcomings.  They quickly fall in love but then break up, as they must, though due to perfectly legitimate reasons.  Say Anything… suggests that even the best laid plans may fall victim to circumstance and life.

The movie, to me, is particularly noteworthy for two reasons.  First, the famous shot of Lloyd holding the boombox over his head doesn’t end how I assumed it did.  He pines for Diane, standing outside of her house, and though she hears the familiar notes of a Phil Collins song that has come to mean something to them, she doesn’t run outside to greet him.  It’s a visually striking moment that ends in vain.

The second thing is that the movie’s title comes not from the relationship between Lloyd and Diane but between Diane and her father, James (John Mahoney).  James and his wife divorced some time ago, and Diane was forced to pick who she would live with.  She picked her father, and it’s safe to assume that ever since then he has put everything he has into her future.  He buys her gifts, acts as her best friend, reminds her that she can say anything to him, and he’s given her a job at his retirement home.  Most of all he’s her biggest champion, and it’s been working.

She is the valedictorian, and early into the film she learns that she’s won a fellowship which will send her to school in England.  He has a plan for her, and it’s going off without a hitch.

Then comes Lloyd, of course, and James feels threatened by the young man not because of who he is personally but because he is a detour to his daughter’s carefully constructed plan.  He has put so much of himself in her future that any threat to this plan is a threat to him personally.  

Going into the movie you expect much of this conflict, such as between the boy and the girl’s father, but the movie subverts much of this.  James Court is his own character, and he will suffer as a result of a decision made long ago in the name of securing his daughter’s future.  The IRS has been investigating him for tax fraud, and it’s only in the course of this movie that they charge him with the crime.  

It’s that criminal investigation which worries Diane and leads to her breaking up with Lloyd, not because he or she’s done anything wrong or because their environments don’t support them, but just because life gets in the way. 

They do get back together, and the movie ends in a manner as memorable, to me, as the end of Some Like It Hot.

Say Anything… is really just a fun, charming, easy to root for movie.  Lloyd is incredibly sincere, and Diane has more to do than just be the love interest.  She has as much agency in their relationship as he does and as any real person should.  There is a whimsy to their courtship and a heart to the film as a whole.

It’s not hard to see how this could go astray.  John Cusack’s character is very much in the mold of what would become the “nice guy.”  His commitment to Diane probably should feel a bit uncomfortable, considering how little he cares about anything else in his life, and I think it probably gave a lot of people at home the wrong takeaway from the movie.  Lloyd is a special character who walks a fine line between sincerity and obsession.  I’d say the movie stays on the right side of that line, but I can imagine another movie made from the same script coming away with Dobbler feeling like a much more oppressive force.  Crowe’s next film, Singles, seems an attempt to recreate much of the magic of this film, particularly through the storyline of Steve Dunne, though something between the casting, dialogue and overall story progression never quite works.  His character is surely not far from Lloyd Dobbler, and yet he comes off as slimy and egocentric.

Up Next: Life (1999), The Terminator (1984), Singles (1992)

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