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Say Anything - An Underrated Eighties Teen Classic
Say Anything (DVD)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Say Anything (DVD)
Advantages: Engaging characters. Great quotes. Emotionally fulfilling.
Disadvantages: Woeful Eighties fashion.
As a child of the eighties, I have fond memories of iconic teen film classics such as "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", and the "Breakfast Club", but there was one film, above all others, which I related to and connected with as an awkward teenager coming of age in New York - Cameron Crowe's under-rated and oft overlooked "Say Anything".
John Cusack is one of my favourite actors, and this is without doubt one of his finest early roles. He plays the "invisible everyman" to perfection - a guy who everyone knows, everyone likes, but who isn't a standout in any respect. The type of guy that girls love to have as a "friend" but don't really consider "boyfriend material". In short, a guy I could relate to back then, as I saw some of myself in his character.
The story starts with the Class of 1988 at an unnamed Seattle High School getting ready for graduation, and centres on the beautiful overachiever Diane Court (Ione Skye) and the nice guy who is desperate to date her - the noble but directionless Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), whose only aim, for the time being, is to date Diane and possibly become a professional kick boxer.
Diane's father John (John Mahoney) runs a nursing home and appears to have a very close relationship with his daughter based on absolute trust - they feel they can "say anything" to each other. However, John is an intensely driven and ambitious father who has his daughter's life mapped out for her, and doesn't take kindly to anything that he thinks may distract her.
Lloyd falls squarely into this category, especially as his relationship with Diane progresses, and although John tolerates it at first, things start going downhill when he realises that she is falling for him, and that Lloyd has little in the way of ambition - other than to spend as much time with his daughter as possible. Matters are complicated when Diane wins a prestigious fellowship - much to her father's unbridled joy - which means she will have to leave for England in 16 weeks.
However, things are not all they seem, and when the IRS comes knocking at John McCourt's door, the ties between all three characters are severely tested. The rest of the film deftly explores the way the characters deal with the adversity and conflict that touches each of them. Will their relationships survive?
I wish I had Lloyd Dobler's optimism and courage when I was his age. I was always awkward with girls back then, so he became something of a hero to me by succeeding where I had failed. In a party scene, early on in the film, a boy called Mike, clearly on the fringes of High School society (and dressed like a reject from an 80's new wave band) approaches Lloyd and asks him how he got Diane to go on a date with him:
Mike: "I don't know you very well, you know, but I wanted to ask you - how'd you get Diane Court to go out with you?
Lloyd: "I called her up."
Mike: "But how come it worked? I mean, like, what are you?"
Lloyd: "I'm Lloyd Dobler."
Mike: "This is great. This gives me hope. Thanks."
That little exchange encapsulated my high school experience perfectly. I was Mike, but I wanted to be Lloyd. Even Diane isn't sure why she has agreed to go with him, except that she feels safe and looked after, and he makes her laugh (he has this endearing habit of talking quickly when he is nervous). Their budding relationship alternates between the awkward and the endearing. Lloyd plays the true gentleman throughout, egged on and "advised" by his coterie of close "girl" friends. This is clearly his first "real" relationship, and what he lacks in finesse, he makes up for with bags of optimism and enthusiasm.
The core relationship between Diane and her father is well realised and believable. He is clearly trying to make up for his own shortcomings by doing everything he can to ensure that his daughter has the best and is the best - but it is also clear that he is so blinkered that he doesn't realise that, despite all her achievements, she has no sense of belonging. Having spent summers away, taken on extra courses, and set herself very high goals, the High School experience has completely passed her by. This is highlighted on Lloyd and Diane's first date when driving home from a graduation party:
Diane: "Nobody knew me before tonight"
Lloyd: "They knew of you. Now they know you."
In the supporting roles, Lili Taylor - as Lloyd's best friend Corey, gives us just the right mix of caring and neurotic, and provides an amusing and touching side plot with ex-boyfriend Joe, who she is hopelessly in love with and cannot seem to let go. It's a role played to clueless and self-absorbed perfection by Loren Dean.
Lloyd: "Joe. Joe. She's written 65 songs... 65. They're all about you. They're all about pain."
Joe: "So what's up?".
The film has dated fairly well - its main themes remain fresh and relevant even twenty years on. That said, it is written very much from the teenage perspective, so those for whom it has little nostalgia value may want to knock a star off my "perfect" rating. Eighties fashion remains as bewildering as ever - all big hair and shoulder pads - with Ione Skye forced to wear a frock or two that would not look out of place on her grandmother. If you manage to ignore the woeful trappings of the era, it makes enjoyable and rewarding viewing.
The soundtrack is excellent and chock full of great tracks. However, there is one song which is indelibly linked with this film - Peter Gabriel's beautiful and haunting ballad "In Your Eyes", which was originally recorded (and appears on) his 1986 album "So". The film has an iconic moment where Lloyd is standing in front of his car in the pre-dawn light, with a boom box held high above his head with the signature song blaring from the speakers. It is a poignant image, even more so in the context of the film.
"Love, I don't like to see so much pain - so much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away. I get so tired, working so hard for our survival. I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive..."
Other highlights on the soundtrack - which feature in the film itself - are "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" by Donald Fagen, which showcases John Mahoney's less than stellar karaoke "skills" and "Taste the Pain" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which works well as a fitting overture to the opening scenes of the film.
The film was released in the summer of 1989 and is widely available on DVD for a budget price (currently around £4 on Amazon). It carries a 15 rating, with a running time of just over an hour and a half. There are no extras on the DVD other than the Theatrical Trailer.
With a fantastic performance by the talented John Cusack, and great turns by Ione Skye and the engaging John Mahoney, as well as an excellent supporting cast, "Say Anything" is a hidden gem that seems to have fallen under the shadow of some of its more illustrious and celebrated stable mates.
Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"; "Almost Famous"), in his directorial debut, provides a steady hand, gives the film energy and pace, and manages to steer clear of the more obvious stereotypes and lazy cliché's that plagued some of the teen movies of the time. A sparkling script, chock full of memorable quotes, helps the actors bring the story to life, and it's to their credit that they really manage to bring depth to their roles, and substance and meaning to the relationships between them.
"Say Anything" is, without doubt, my favourite teen movie of the 1980's, and a film that I feel unrepentant in being passionate about. A funny, warm-hearted romantic comedy that will appeal to both sexes, it blows away the sad litany of recent films in this genre, and could teach them a thing or two about the importance of making meaningful films with depth and soul in which the viewer can really engage and emotionally invest in its characters.
Under-rated, like its standout lead actor, it's a real classic and deserves to be treated as such. Highly recommended.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: "She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen."