Back in 1989 Cameron Crowe wrote and made his directorial debut with “Say Anything…”, a teen romantic comedy that still stands out from the bulk of the teen flicks we still get today. So many teen films adhere to the annoying formula of vulgarity mixed with immaturity and they treat their characters as shallow and stupid stereotypes. “Say Anything…” does none of that instead choosing to give us genuine characters who feel grounded in reality. These are the types of characters you can relate to and care about which makes for a much more authentic experience.
Crowe clearly has no interest in creating another portrait of teen debauchery. This film features real characters struggling with real problems and sharing real emotions. But Crowe’s writing also allows for a fair share of humor which always comes at just the right time. For all its sweet romance and well conceived drama there are some really funny moments as well. But perhaps what I’m the most thankful for is that Crowe actually gives us well developed and layered characters. He opens these people up for us and allows us to see what’s inside. That’s a key ingredient to getting the audience to latch onto the characters and their stories.
The story starts on graduation day at a small Seattle, Wasington high school. John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler, an average, everyday student with no clear vision for what he wants to do with his life. He’s a very honest and forthright guy who finds himself attracted to Diane Court (Ione Skye), the class valedictorian. On paper this doesn’t look like the perfect match, something Lloyd’s best friend Corey (Lili Taylor) is happy to point out. But Lloyd and Diane are two characters that we’re happy to invest in and their unlikely romance makes for good cinema.
Both Lloyd and Diane have struggles in there individual lives that Crowe takes time explore. I mentioned Lloyd’s uncertainty about his future and with graduation day behind him time is running out to decide what he’s going to do. His parents are overseas leaving him to live with his sister and her son. I couldn’t help but feel he was a kid needing his parents presence and love. Yet Lloyd is still a good guy even though he’s unsure. Diana is the smartest girl in school which has socially distanced her from her entire class. She doesn’t appear to have any close friends and her one confidant is her father Jim (John Mahoney). She chose to live with him during her parents’ divorce and the two have a very close and open relationship. But outside of her father, Diane has no one else she can truly call a friend.
Crowe stays away from the standard teen movie cliches and formulas when bringing these two together. Their emotions feel so authentic and their problems complicate things in ways people are sure to relate to. There’s a lot of talk about honesty in “Say Anything…”. Lloyd is a honest and sincere young man and that plays a big part in his relationship with Diane. Her relationship with her father is built entirely on honesty and trust. Honesty is such a big part of the film and when it’s broken, just like in real life, it can often times carry heavy consequences.
Cusack is pitch perfect for this role. I’m not the biggest fan of his but I have admired some of his work. Here he relays that teen enthusiasm and nervousness surrounding new found love. But there’s also a innocence and vulnerability that he brings which I really responded to. Skye has her moments as well. At times her performance can be very convincing as she moves between heavy, emotional scenes and others where she conveys an almost childlike exuberance. But there are some times where she plays things a tad to big and she ends up standing out for the wrong reasons. Mahoney is brilliant as Diane’s father. He gives us such a likable character and several times we feel as if he’s going to go down the conventional road that most of these teen movie fathers travel. Mahoney is so believable and his performance really shines later in the film.
“Say Anything…” is over 20 years old now but it still maintains its freshness in a genre thats grown repetitive and stale. It’s a film that treats teens as sensible human beings with real world feelings and issues. Cameron Crowe’s writing is crisp and his direction is sharp. He gives us a film that feels like an 80’s movie with a new decade’s vibe bursting out of it. But regardless of its age and imperfections, “Say Anything…” still stands out today. But that’s no surprise. Good movies always seem to.