Say Anything – John Cusack is crack for ladies
Somewhere, somehow, I stumbled across a wise suggestion to watch Say Anything (1989), a film that is apparently quite an underrated teen romance/drama. If anything, Say Anything has confirmed my worst fears – I am addicted to the romance crack that is John Cusack being a dork. Gosh, I really do adore dorks. Any girl that doesn’t want 23-year-old John Cusack (playing a 19-year-old) holding up a boombox outside their window probably hasn’t seen High Fidelity, Being John Malkovich or pretty much any John Hughes film from the eighties.
While Say Anything isn’t one of the movies blessed by John Hughes’ Midas touch, it still has the almost-inimitable qualities of a Hughes film: the idea that teenagers aren’t stupid; that they can, in many circumstances, handle themselves in complex and difficult situations; and that, most importantly, the things they are going through do matter, even when the adult figures that surround them constantly remind them how insignificant their lives really are compared to the ‘real’ world.
Diane Court (Ione Skye) is a nineteen-year-old mature adult. Let’s stop right there. I know when I was the same age as valedictorian-beauty Diane, I was about as sexually adept as a chimp. I didn’t quite get to the point of scratching my gonads in public, and fortunately I don’t have any gonads, but Diane seems to exhibit grace beyond the capacity of the usual high-school graduate, particularly one who has spent the last three or so years in the presence of kids who get so drunk they forget where their houses are.
Right after Diane’s graduation, her cashed-up Dad gives her a car and a ring for behaving herself all this time. She sounds like a real thriller, right? Despite all her geeky do-goodery, Diane’s beauty has made her indefatigably captivating to a guy in her year level, someone who has barely spoken three words to her during their entire time in school together. Fortunately, lack of conversation does not seem to be a big problem for the dreamily named Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack).
As with any solid romantic-comedy/drama, Lloyd just doesn’t seem to be one of ‘those’ guys. The film asks us to suspend our knowledge of all teenage boys, since Dobler doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t seem to be out for sex or money, and doesn’t hang out with a bunch of other guys. His closest friends include the heartbroken Corey Flood (Lili Taylor), a girl who wrote 65 songs about her jerky ex-boyfriend Joe (Loren Dean). Yet she and several other teenage girls manage to give Lloyd some surprisingly sage advice on his infatuation with the seemingly unreachable Diane. Dobler, in general, seems too nice to be true. However his approachability, sweet naivety, dorky obsession with kick-boxing and all-round John Cusack-ness make this an oversight easy to ignore.
What is perhaps most interesting about Say Anything is that it is a film about adult rebellion and confusion, rather than half-baked philosophies on the emptiness of teenage lust. Diane and Lloyd prove themselves surprisingly agile in emotional terms, while the adults around them are strained and stressed by situations that are both insignificant and hideously soul-baring. Diane’s father James (John Mahoney of Frasier fame) will seem to many like a wonder parent simply because when Diane tells him she’s danced the horizontal rumba, he barely bats an eyelid. But his picture-perfect fathering quickly becomes clouded by a slightly more complicated aspect of his personality, one that makes him, in many ways, far more dimensional than most rom-coms care to do for any of their characters.
It’s this kind of gently layered intrigue that allows Say Anything to escape the rut of the everyday perfect-parent-naughty-teenager rebellion movie, and must have been a least a minor factor in the reason why this movie has taken on such a cult status. I mean, yes, there is that scene with John Cusack and the boombox, and you’ll sigh and glare are your own boyfriend as, perhaps, he times his farts to issue at the most romantic points of the movie. But I appreciated the fact writer Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) tried to make a movie that at least identified the struggles teenagers faced and steadfastly resisted the urge to patronise and belittle those indignities of adolescence. In fact, what Crowe seems to enforce most strenuously throughout Say Anything is an idea that most parents will hate: trust your kids. They might do stupid emotional things like stop focusing on that damn fine education of theirs, but it’s a happy ending they’re after, not the hell of humiliation and momentary heartbreak. You’ll know they’ll find all three at some point and in some small way, but leave them alone why they careen down that path, OK?
Ladies, I think the moral of Say Anything is clear. Don’t try and change your man to make him more likable, adorable, boom-boxy or romantic. Simply buy an age-appropriate John Cusack (now available in three cute-as-a-button life stages, right up to the present) and feed your dork-love addiction.