Say Anything (1989)

8 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the 1980s, movies featuring teenagers were just as popular then as they are now. But they were very rarely given a good name. There would be sleazy teenage sex movies and deplorable slasher movies. Every once in a while in the ‘80s, there would be welcome exceptions—teen movies that feature solid writing and good development for their teenage characters, like “Lucas,” “Tex,” “Risky Business,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Permanent Record,” among others. Then near the decade’s end, “Say Anything” came along and made itself known as what is not only a great teen romance movie, but possibly the best of its kind. It’s treated intelligently with well-developed, likable characters, credible situations, and well-drawn relationships that are emotionally involving. At times it’s funny, other times time it’s touching, and mostly it’s engaging.

“Say Anything” stars John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate. Lloyd has no future plans as of yet, because there’s nothing out there that catches his interests except kickboxing. He tells one of his teachers that he’s looking for “something great, you know—a dare-to-be-great situation.” He’s a real optimistic guy and has his hopes up when he decides to ask out the class valedictorian Diane Court, said to be “a brain trapped in the body of a game show hostess.” True, Diane Court (Ione Skye) is very smart and very beautiful, and most people wouldn’t see her and average Lloyd together. But Lloyd gives it a shot and calls her up—I love the bit in which Lloyd dials her phone number and checks himself in the mirror before pressing the last digit.

At first, Diane doesn’t answer the phone—her father (John Mahoney) does. Lloyd asks him to have her call him when she gets a chance, and his tone of voice gives the assumption that Lloyd isn’t the only guy that’s called for Diane. “Is this the guy with the Mustang,” he asks. “Why don’t you just leave a message—that’s usually how it works,” he says. Lloyd repeatedly tells him his phone number. Then he hangs up the phone, shrugs it off, and quickly goes back to reading his magazine. But Diane does call Lloyd back and Lloyd asks her to a graduation party. At first, Diane tries to let it down easy, but changes her mind when Lloyd makes her laugh.

Diane is someone who needed a good laugh, as a lot of things are going on in her life. As she confides with her caring father, she’s scared for her future even though things seem to be going great for her. Really, her father is more excited for her than she is. What she needs is someone outside of her father to socialize with. She realized while making her valedictorian speech that no one at school actually knew her—they knew of her. She wishes she didn’t take any summer school courses. And so, when Diane agrees to go to the party with Lloyd, she’s able to finally mingle with her peers. And not only that—even though she and Lloyd have very little in common, she finds that she genuinely likes him.

The relationship between Lloyd and Diane is sweet and believable, but another key relationship is between Diane and her father James. It’s a trusting, confiding relationship between the two; Diane feels she can say anything to him. But when Diane wins a scholarship at a school in England, James is more excited for it than Diane is. Diane is scared for the future, but the father just wants her to deal with it. Then, Lloyd comes along and as their relationship grows, the father becomes skeptical since Lloyd has no real plans for the future except “to spend as much time as possible with your daughter.”

James is written with more intelligence than one would expect from a parent in a teen movie. He has his own problems too, and there’s a pivotal subplot involving a pair of tax collectors that turns his world upside-down. Mostly though, he’s Diane’s confidant. And he tries to keep his daughter close to him as they usually are, but the screenplay doesn’t turn him into a device to try and keep Lloyd and Diane apart. (Though, there is a time when they do separate, but for believable reasons.) And when he does get angry, he respects his daughter enough to listen to what she has to say, leading to one of the best scenes in the movie, as Diane tells James what happened between her and Lloyd on one of their dates. The scene cut away from when it looked like Lloyd and Diane were about to have sex, right to when Diane comes home the next morning—the way she describes to her father what exactly happened is a smart, well-written moment. It’s very rare in a teen movie that a teenager has this kind of relationship with his or her parent(s).

This is a great screenplay by Cameron Crowe (who also directed the film). All three central characters—Lloyd, Diane, and James—are well drawn out and easily identifiable. Every one of their situations seems believable, thus making it all effective. Aside from the great scenes I mentioned before, there are many other great ones—Diane’s amusing first talk with Lloyd, Lloyd’s best friend Corey (Lili Taylor) using her guitar at a party to get over a breakup, Lloyd meeting up with some guys at a gas station after he and Diane break up (they think they know a lot about women, even though they hang out with each other on Saturday night), and who could forget the later scene featuring Lloyd as he stands in front of Diane’s house and holds a boombox over his head, playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in an attempt to win Diane’s heart again.

I love this exchange between Lloyd and Diane when Lloyd takes Diane home the morning after their first date. Diane says she’ll call him tomorrow. Lloyd: Today is tomorrow. (beat) Diane: I’ll call you later, then.

John Cusack is perfectly cast as Lloyd Dobler. He’s immediately likable and so sincere in his performance that it’s so hard not to feel for him. He has a great deal of optimism, humanity, and self-respect to believe that he deserves the prettiest and smartest girl in the class, and we’re hoping for the best. (There’s no surprise that the film’s poster features the tagline, “To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him.”) Ione Skye is wonderful and totally convincing as Diane Court—a better performance than her role in the 1987 teen drama “River’s Edge.” Both actors share great chemistry together. John Mahoney does great work, making James into a three-dimensional father character. Llil Taylor and Amy Brooks as Lloyd’s friends, and Joan Cusack as Lloyd’s older sister whom he lives with, fill supporting roles effectively.

“Say Anything” is such a treasure. It’s very human, very believable, always pleasant, extremely-well-written, and wonderfully-acted. It features a teen romance, but to be honest, it’s not necessarily a “teen movie.” This is a movie for all people—it’s a movie about relationships and trust. It doesn’t condescend to romantic comedy clichés—it tells it like it is. The result is a wonderful movie that I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying.

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