Say Anything (1989)
“I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”
Lloyd Dobler, a bright, sweet underachiever loves Diane Court, class valedictorian. It writes itself, doesn’t it? She’s headed for a promising future and he’ll be lucky if he graduates. Opposites attract and they do sort of a modern Romeo and Juliet thing complete with dueling parents and Lloyd wedging a cross into the door of the high school gym at graduation. Or…they have a short romantic summer in which they learn to be open-minded about people and not take them at face value, then have a moving break-up scene and we see them at different colleges starting their lives apart. Be still, my heart. Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut could have skated by on a thin premise and the charisma of John Cusack, but the plot, characters, and acting chops of the entire cast lift Say Anything to a higher level of teen angst films.
First, the plot allows us to see Lloyd and Diane fall in love, but it also deals with their relationships with family and friends. It’s not all dates and necking and will they or won’t they. Diane has a dad and a job and a desire to step outside her academic life and see the world. Lloyd has military parents stationed overseas and a grown sister (real-life sister, Joan), her young son, and nagging doubts about his own future.
The characters and the actors who play them make this a denser film as well. John Mahoney, as Diane’s father never disappoints and his single-minded single dad gives a terrific performance as both Diane’s best friend and the first guy to let her down. He also has a wonderfully touching scene. He flirts with the attractive saleslady in a shop and asks her out as he acts the big man and places a large order. She tells him, awkwardly that his credit card has been declined. Embarrassed, Mahoney makes an excuse and leaves the store. The scene speaks to Mahoney’s character and part of the motivation for his misstep. Joan Cusack is solid, as usual. Lili Taylor has a nice smaller role as one of Lloyd’s close friends and has a great line. When Lloyd decides he won’t try to get back with Diane he says it’s “because I’m a guy. I have pride.” Lili says, “The world is full of guys. Be a man; don’t be a guy.” Eric Stoltz, Lois Chiles, Jeremy Piven, Chynna Phillips, Philip Baker Hall, and Bebe Neuwirth have small roles and the entire ensemble works together nicely. Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson even appears as Lloyd’s martial arts coach.
Cameron Crowe wrote Say Anything’s screenplay and his dialogue has a natural sound to it. Nothing is forced and the story flows along nicely. The iconic scene with Lloyd holding the boombox over his head playing “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel has less impact in the film than I thought it would, but it carries more emotional weight for me now that I understand it in context.
Say Anything had fully formed characters, an interesting plot, and John Cusack. It didn’t fit into the usual teen mold and had a less stylized ambiance than a John Hughes film. I enjoyed Say Anything and I’m glad Cinema Shame gave me a reason to see it.