STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
MSRP: $17.49
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
* Commentary by director and cast
* A conversation with Cameron Crowe
* I Love Say Anything
* Alternate, Deleted and Extended Scenes
* Vintage featurette

The Pitch

To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him. Diane Court is about to know Lloyd Dobler.

The Humans

John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney
Written/Directed by Cameron Crowe

The Nutshell

Your classic tale of boy wants girl, girl doesn’t know boy exists, boy charms girl into first date involving Eric Stoltz in a chicken suit, girl falls for boy because of broken glass, Fraiser’s dad butts in, girl dumps boy with pen, Fraiser’s dad turns out to be a dick, girl runs back to boy, boy and girl live happily ever after… or do they?

The Lowdown

I’m trying to decide if it is right to call Say Anything a masterpiece. It is certainly Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece (in this reviewer’s unhumble opinion). I don’t necessarily love every moment of it, yet even if I had the ability to change elements of the film I’m not sure I would. It’s a testament to how emotionally real the world of Say Anything seems that I don’t feel entirely right judging it purely on narrative fiction terms. I just accept the characters and events and imperfections of the film as I do life: they simply are. In this sense the film is somewhat perfect.

Hey look! It’s John Cusack!

I presume most of you reading this have seen Say Anything (potentially far too many times at far too many slumber parties back in the day; ladies of a certain age, I’m looking at you), and if you haven’t seen the film, well I see no reason in spoiling the very few plot points the film has, so I’ll keep the summary brief…

Lloyd Dobbler (Cusack) has just graduated high school. He has no plans for the future. No career aspirations. “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

Hi. I’m here to murder your daughter.

Aside from kickboxing – “the sport of the future” – Lloyd has no particular passions either. His one and only ambition in life is to go on a date with Diane Court (Skye). Diane is the exact opposite of Lloyd. Her future has already been mapped out for her by her father (Mahoney), who is so dotingly and blindly loving that Diane has grown up in a bit of bubble. This is illustrated succinctly in the film’s opening when Mr. Court convinces Diane that a lame joke in her valedictorian speech is in fact hilarious. Everyone will love it. Of course, no one laughs at graduation except Mr. Court. This minor moment let’s us know everything we need to know about the Courts’ relationship, which ultimately proves to be the dramatic backbone of the film. 

Diane is not totally unaware of her bubble, though. When Lloyd works up the now-or-never courage to ask her out, the “everyone’s gonna be there” party he’s inviting her to lures her in just as much as his stuttering charm. It is at this party that Diane slowly but surely realizes that Lloyd is precisely what she’s been missing in her life. Everyone knows Lloyd. Everyone likes Lloyd. No one really knows Diane, they simply know of her. Now people are finally signing her yearbook! Diane offers Lloyd a kind of focus, and Lloyd offers Diane a chance to become less focused, to stop and enjoy life. And thusly a summer romance is born. Cue 80’s soundtrack and Jeremy Piven.

I can’t wait for the remake with Zac Efron holding up his iPod.

Given that this is a movie heavily steeped in nostalgia for many people, I should note that I was too young when Say Anything first came out for it to be the kind of generation defining film that it was for my older sister and her friends. I didn’t end up seeing it until around ’96. I’ve now seen the film thrice, and upon each viewing I’ve grown to appreciate it more. Unlike The Breakfast Club, which seems more dated and cartoonish every time I see it, Say Anything still carries the same punch it always has. It has an enduring level of truth to it. Boom boxes and porkpie hats aside, the film is timeless. I knew girls like Lili Taylor in high school, who wrote bad songs and worse poetry about their ex-boyfriends. I knew Diane Courts and Joes and the guys hanging outside the Gas’N’Sip with no women in sight.

Just like his hero Billy Wilder, Crowe’s strong suit has always been character – even the smallest of characters in the film come off as fully realized – but even he seems to have outdone himself with Lloyd Dobbler. A perfect marriage of actor and role, Lloyd was surely every high school girl’s wet dream before Edward Cullen glowered his way onto screens (which in my opinion isn’t saying great things about the current crop of adolescent ladies out there). What 16-year-old girl doesn’t want a guy that states out loud that his only goal in life is to spend as much time with her as possible? It’s only down the road that she’ll want Lloyd to get a job and become passionate about things other than her.

The wild Cusack in its natural state: pining in the rain.

Oddly enough, I’d say Lloyd’s perfection causes the film’s only weak point. By making Lloyd the world’s awesomest dude – wiser than his older sister, bff to his cute karate lovin’ nephew, designated driver, articulate, wise, funny, kickboxing badass – this puts the character of Diane in the awkward position of, realistic or not, seeming unlikable for breaking his heart. Which then makes me wonder what exactly about her Lloyd likes so much. This isn’t helped by Ione Skye. I was never a huge fan of Ione Skye, and given her career presence since Say Anything, I have to assume neither were most people (boom!). Her performance is entirely acceptable, but when paired with Cusack’s and Mahoney’s heavy lifting she often comes across as amateurish.

But that’s the only bad thing I have to say about the film. The film is really a wonderful showcase of subtle filmmaking, lived in performances and astute, endlessly quotable dialogue. Mahoney is the secret weapon here. Well, maybe it’s no secret. He does have a meaty role. But the work the man does with facial expressions alone is sublime. The scene where he’s trying to buy luggage, for example – when the woman working at the store gives him an inviting flirt, you can see the years he has spent as a lonely single father just in his smile. Then when his credit cards are denied and that smile fades into embarrassment… gets me every time, man.

Until this most recent viewing I had always viewed Say Anything as one of Cameron Crowe’s least musical films. And while it may not be as overtly musical as say, Almost Famous, he was already using music to tell story and not simply as background mood-setters. From something as simple as Mr. Court singing along with the radio happily in his car, to the epic “Joe songs,” to Lloyd being embarrassed by the music in his tape player when he turns his car on, to Lloyd’s idiot friends rapping, to the film’s most iconic moment – Gabriel on the boom box. Crowe uses music in the film as shorthand: a quick, easy and human way for us to connect with these characters.

John Mahoney… noooot the best singing voice. Shockingly.

I’ve always wondered what goes through Nancy Wilson’s (Crowe’s wife) head when she watches her husband’s movies, given that an on-going theme in his films seems to be the fuzzy gray line between true love and simply settling for the best love you could find. It’s a very realistic and distinctly un-Hollywood approach to romantic filmmaking, and sometimes it can leave a slight bitter taste in Crowe’s “happy” endings (I’m surprised by how romantic some people find Jerry Maquire). I think one of the reasons that Say Anything works so well and continues to have resonance even for older viewers is because it’s about teenagers. The bitter-sweet element feels so appropriate. The film captures the all-consuming-importance of teenage love without pandering to pure fantasy. It’s honest.

I’m most curious to revisit this film again when I’m Mr. Court’s age and have children of my own. Given the film’s track record thus far, I expect it to just keep getting richer.

The Package

For all you Say Anything nerds out there, this DVD has a treasure trove. The features are fantastic (though many are recycled from the previous edition). The commentary with Crowe, Cusack and Skye is excellent; informative and entertaining (did you know the famous phone call in the rain scene was inspired by Frank Miller comics?). It’s so dense in fact that the commentary begins 20 minutes before the movie starts just so the threesome can get their preliminary chit chat out of the way. The most fun featurette seems to be a segment from VH1’s I Love the 80’s, where various celebrities gush about why they love the film. No one is watching this film for the amazing surround sound and eye-popping visuals, but the picture and sound where both up to par. A worthy, worthy purchase.

9 out of 10