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...Say Anything... Speaks from a Unique Perspective

This film represents the second of two films written and directed by Cameron Crowe that top my Netflix queue, just in case you were keeping track. This film further represents the first of three films featuring John Cusack (of all people) that also top the queue.

As a (literal) child of the eighties and sometime proponent of all the best American teen comedies hailing from that anomalous decade, it might strike you, gentle reader, to be a bit of a shock that I am only now reviewing a film that is generally considered to be one of the finer of such movies to emerge from the neon-wearing, synthesizer-blaring, spiky hair-rampant era. Then, there are some of you that might be hiding agape expressions and ripe produce: how couldI have missed one of *those* films, one of those classics that *everyone* has seen and enjoyed?

Well...to be fair, I might have seen at least part of Say Anything... at some point in the past, but at the time of creating my bottomless Netflix queue, I just couldn't remember if I had or not. When I saw the iconic image of individualistic Romeo Lloyd Dobler, standing soberly with his boombox lofted above his head in earnest appeal to his mysterious (and unseen) Juliet, however, and thought of the iconic Peter Gabriel song "In Your Eyes" playing in the recesses of my memory, I knew I had to watch it seriously, even if I was watching it again. It's director Crowe's first film behind the camera and one of his more celebrated efforts. Plus, I am a sucker for these teen romances, especially if they were created in the eighties. Unfortunately, the viewing of the film did not quite live up to either my memory or my expectations, and I'm not sure if looking at it through the lens of cynical adulthood, over 20 years after its production, might have something to do with that take or not. This perspective probably does not help matters, anyway.

In Say Anything... Lloyd (Cusack) is a Seattle teen with mediocre academic credentials and a passion for kick-boxing. Despite the admonitions of his best friend Corey (Lili Taylor), he woos valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) after graduation, though she has won a major academic fellowship to study in England at the end of the summer. Highly intelligent yet socially awkward, Diane is both intrigued and entranced by Lloyd's personal charms and wonders at his attraction toward someone like her. Lloyd worships Diane, much to her father's (John Mahoney) chagrin, though Jim is under federal investigation for defrauding a nursing home that he owns. As her father's misdeeds are uncovered, Diane begins to worry that she is neglecting him in favor of Lloyd, even as her father pressures her to break up with the underachiever, which strains their budding romance.

What Say Anything...lacks in overall plot and story, it makes up for in honest effort and purity of heart. The parallel drawn with Romeo and Juliet is not coincidental; in many ways, the romance between Lloyd and Diane has the makings of tragedy. Yet, Crowe, whose personal pastiche tends toward rose-colored lenses of nostalgia without truly connecting to the edgier emotions of his subjects, never allows his young lovers to veer too far into star-crossed territory. Lloyd and Diane are the real deal, even if their actual obstacles seem too contrived to be believed.

Say Anything... has been elevated to quasi-"classic" status because of Cusack's performance. Lloyd is strange; yet, he's sincere and passionate and the kind of "nice guy" for which all nice girls search. He is the poster child for young love; a young man who knows what he wants and is not afraid to risk it all to get it. Coming from such films as Sixteen Candles (remember that he was part of Anthony Michael Hall's nerd squad and sister Joan wore the retainer from hell), this character, with all his earnestness, proved to be an early test for John Cusack's later, more established acting chops. The boombox scene has become the image it has because of his facial expressions and physicality, as he declares his love through the mere playback of a simple yet powerful song and a look of sheer, determined declaration.

Add to that Crowe's excellence for highlighting the little details, and watching this film ultimately becomes a fine way to spend two hours. The ending, in its understated perfection, exemplifies and signifies the entire film in one endearing stroke. The ending alone is probably what helped Crowe to land his next job, though add to that his ear for choosing great soundtracks, including the aforementioned Peter Gabriel song, and there is reason why he's had some success as a writer-director.

Say Anything...is anything but perfect, however. While some critics hail the performance of Ione Skye, this viewer never really connected with her portrayal of Diane. While she happily avoided melodrama in her rendering of the shy valedictorian, her line deliveries lacked emotional depth and sounded largely uniform in tone. For example, when she bemoaned her circumstances and when she expressed joy, it sounded the same; the cadence of her voice was difficult to accept. There were some sweet, quiet scenes between the two characters that, when paired with Crowe's simple direction, were very satisfying, but Skye did not seem to muster the sincerity of concern and dilemma, choosing between father and lover, as Cusack produced for his Lloyd.

Also, as I alluded to earlier, the obstacles to this quirky romance were never clearly defined. Sure, she's smart with an overbearing embezzling father, and he hails from the opposite side of the tracks, with only his sister (also played by Joan Cusack), his best friends, and his fighting spirit to guide him. Ultimately, though, these problems never seem to be truly real to the couple; they acknowledge them explicitly, but the gravitas never settles into the romance except when the Diane character easily gives in to these pressures. The dialog about all of it, though genuine, also fails to process why all of it is important, but Crowe has a knack for keeping the worst face of reality at arm's length (see also "Almost Famous"). Additionally, though these characters should ring familiar to most viewers, the film does ultimately adhere to formula, and its spark of originality, both in character and in the actual romance, is undercut somewhat by that adherence. After all, the couple is not actually tragic or actually star-crossed, though they are actually young and in the infancy of their self-determined adulthoods. The supporting characters, including Mahoney's father-figure, also seemed to be something surreal in a film that balanced after-school special circumstances with an effort toward an honest, no-holds barred romance, and most of the acting outside of Cusack, Skye, and Mahoney was a bit B-movie by comparison.

Nevertheless, Say Anything...was entertaining, and it's possible I've lost some of the ability to connect to it now that I'm beyond the age Lloyd and Diane are living in the film. I don't feel the film in general is as timeless and classic as it's propped up to be, though I will subscribe to the notion that there are moments in the film that are truly stunning, including the moment featuring that awesome "In Your Eyes" song (the lyrics of which are reprinted below). Still, Say Anything...is not Crowe's or Cusack's best work, but it's a fine start to what would become each individual's respectable careers. As for the patented ratings scale, I award this film a 7 for being shaky but entertaining. I don't think the test passes, though. I might be inclined to watch the film on cable, but I'm not sure it's worth owning. I find films like Sixteen Candles to be a bit more timeless, perhaps because they are funnier. Still, Say Anything... speaks from the perspective of young love, even if it's a love best preserved in a now bygone decade.

"In Your Eyes"

love I get so lost, sometimes
days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
when I want to run away
I drive off in my car
but whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are

all my instincts, they return
and the grand facade, so soon will burn
without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

in your eyes
the light the heat
in your eyes
I am complete
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
in your eyes
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
the heat I see in your eyes

love, I don't like to see so much pain
so much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

and all my instincts, they return
and the grand facade, so soon will burn
without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

in your eyes
the light the heat
in your eyes
I am complete
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
in your eyes
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light,
the heat I see in your eyes
in your eyes in your eyes
in your eyes in your eyes
in your eyes in your eyes

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