Movies about high school kids are known for being about sex, causing trouble, and drinking beer at parties. Cameron Crowe achieved something with Say Anything… that throws all of those stereotypes out the window and makes its characters talk and act like real people. There are no silly subplots about seeing girls naked or trying to get the girl to go to prom even though you’re a geek and she is in love with the jock. At the heart of this film is love. Lloyd loves Diane. Diane’s father loves Diane. And Diane loves them both. Unfortunately, Diane’s father isn’t sure about Lloyd.
Lloyd (John Cusack) has a crush on Diane Court (Ione Skye), the class valedictorian, and wants to ask her out even though his friends tell him that it probably won’t happen. But Lloyd is the kind of guy that doesn’t take no for an answer. He is the eternal optimist and actually calls Diane to ask her to an end of the year party after graduation. The first call is answered by Diane’s father (John Mahoney in a great performance) who is so used to taking calls for Diane that he has a list sitting next to the phone. To him, Lloyd is just another name on the list. Cusack makes the call from his “office”, the bathroom, and conveys the pent up fear and excitement that all young men have when calling a girl for the first time. This scene is an exercise in making use of small spaces. Later on, Diane calls Lloyd back even though she isn’t sure who he is and he convinces her to come to the party with him. After hanging up the phone she checks the yearbook to see who she just agreed to see. The entire sequence of the party sets up the relationship and convinces Diane that Lloyd is a great guy. He continually checks up on her, is respectful, and makes sure she doesn’t step in a pile of glass while walking home afterwards. Diane later tells her father that she always thinks of that moment when people ask her what she is doing with Lloyd Dobler.
The great thing about Say Anything… is that this is only the first act of the movie. Most teen-age films make attaining the girl the focal point of the entire picture and get bogged down on silly sub-plots. Cameron Crowe takes his time building the relationship, but also puts serious road blocks in the way. Diane is supposed to go overseas in the fall after she won a prestigious scholarship, making her not want to get too involved with Lloyd. Her father is also accused of stealing money from the retirement home that he runs.
Every time I watch Say Anything… I am reminded of how real the characters are and how there are no silly clichés. The problems in the relationship are substantial and would put anyone in a tough situation deciding what to do. Ione Skye and John Cusack give terrific performances and translate teen-age angst and true emotional connection as the young couple. As mentioned before, Mahoney is great as the father. His love for Diane supercedes anything and everything else in his life. All he wants is for her to be happy. That line is thrown around by parent’s in a lot of movies, but they don’t really mean it. Mahoney makes us believe it here. Even though his actions are not the greatest, they are always with the best intentions and he does not come off as a villain, but as a tortured father that may be losing the greatest love of his life, his daughter.
With this film Cameron Crowe and Executive Producer James L. Brooks showed how well they can create deep characters inside an involving story. Next time you see a high school sex comedy, remember that there is a film that actually captures what it is to be a teenager without the superficial garbage shown in movies. That film is Say Anything…