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Truly Great Movies – Say Anything (1989)

May 19, 2010

Young love is a tough topic to tackle on film without seeming either too wistfully nostalgic or too overtly comedic and crass.  Remember what it was like to yearn for someone so much that your whole chest pained when that special person totally crushed your hopes and dreams?  It would seem as if the entire universe were standing on pause, while every intake of breath hurt you through to your very soul.  So, you could say I remember what that was like.

 Cameron Crowe remembers, too.  He put all of the drama, heartache and pure hope of young romance into Say Anything.  It’s his greatest film to date, in part because it is so genuine and unabashedly romantic without ever veering into sappy sentimentality.

Lloyd bares his soul

John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler. As far as high school graduates go, he’s not the most likely to succeed.  Raised by his older sister, he knows he’s not the smartest kid in his class, but he also is pleasantly optimistic and realistic about his goals in life.  He’s a kickboxer (“sport of the future”, he says), but he is letting his love for a classmate guide his life.

That love presents itself in the form of the class valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye).  Diane is gorgeous without being unapproachable and vulnerable without being worthy of pity.  She’s living with her supportive and overprotective father (John Mahoney), who is hiding secrets of his own in order to keep her in the lifestyle he believes she deserves. 

Diane has her own problems.  She doesn’t fit in with the rest of her classmates.  The very qualities which make Lloyd fall in love with her (kindness, intelligence, success) are threatening and misunderstood by her peers.  Lloyd sees past all that , and is one of the only guys Diane has met to truly surprise and interest her.  He doesn’t believe in barriers, either the social or the emotional kind. 

Their road to love is sweet and touching.  As they get to know each other, despite the bewildered response of their friends and family, they form a rare bond.  Diane is amazed that Lloyd doesn’t want or expect anything from her but love.  Lloyd is amazed that a girl like Diane can be so insecure that she doesn’t value herself enough to stand up for what she wants.

Diane pleads with Lloyd

As Lloyd woos Diane, we see all the usual pratfalls of a romantic comedy.  They have their awkward first date (at a kegger), meet each other’s family, and have the inevitable break up.  Lloyd is so devastated by Diane’s mortifying dismissal of him he loses his sanity.   He can’t fathom it,  saying, “She’s gone. She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart, she gave me a PEN.”  This leads to the iconic moment of the film when Lloyd can no longer express himself with words alone.  He holds that boom box high as “In Your Eyes plays to tell Diane exactly what he is feeling.

Crowe’s film is a masterful blend of  bittersweet situational comedy and heartfelt romance.  He gets such earnest performances from both Cusack and Skye that it makes you wonder if there was a real romance between them at the time.  The ending of the movie is a happy one, but with a realistic caveat.  The closing shot on both lovers’ faces is classic.  Who knows what will happen down the line?  The point is – neither do they.

As they both comment:

Diane Court: Nobody thinks it will work, do they?
Lloyd Dobler: No. You just described every great success story.

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