Having explored the shopping mall/sex-obsessed Californian adolescents in his script for 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cameron Crowe dialled it down for his 1989 directorial debut Say Anything… The Rolling Stone contributor turned filmmaker opted for a more intimate and less smutty portrayal of young love.
Offering a young, doe-eyed John Cusack the opportunity to once again showcase that quirky persona which served him grandly in that decade in the likes of The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer, Say Anything… eschewed the broader frat boy-like hi-jinks which characterised some of his previous work. Instead he’s cast here as Lloyd Dobler, an amiable if unfocused high school graduate, who falls for clean-cut star pupil Diane Court (Ione Skye) much to the annoyance of her father (the late, great John Mahoney). It’s a tried and tested formula, yet Crowe brings a disarming and perceptive eye to the material, perfectly capturing the pains of a love found then lost without straying into mawkish territory.
It also helps that Lloyd isn’t your traditional romantic male lead. He shows much self-awareness for his age and is already sceptical of what awaits him in the adult world. His “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career” speech to Diane’s father when pushed about his post-school plans, is both hilarious and utterly on the money for the “greed is good” era. Likewise, the character’s ability to be open and firmly in touch with his emotions – his closest friends and confidants are all female – is also in contrast to a decade which largely celebrated a buttoned-down machismo. It’s this honesty and genuineness to Crowe’s characters which added to the film’s appeal, and the sight of a heartbroken but defiant Lloyd holding a boombox aloft as Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes blares out below Diane’s bedroom window has become iconic.
When the couple’s (spoiler) break-up scenes occurs around midpoint in the film – largely instigated by Diane’s well-meaning, if controlling father – Crowe drives the inevitable stake through Lloyd’s heart to an almost agonising five minutes of screen time as Diane first skirts around the issue before landing the fatal blow. There’s no grand melodramatic gestures or moments of heightened drama – just two people driving around in a car. This is what gives the moment its power, and even now as an adult, I still have to fast-forward through the entirety of the scene every time I revisit the film. Skye and Cusack make an appealing couple, and it’s disheartening to see the latter has been almost exclusively appearing in a glut of forgettable B-movies of late. For many, he remains the aspirational, unconventional eighties romantic hero in a near-perfect film which perfectly tapped into his idiosyncratic charms.
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