DIRECTED BY CAMERON CROWE
STARRING: JOHN CUSACK, IONE SKYE, JOHN MAHONEY, LILI TAYLOR, CHYNNA PHILIPS, AMY BROOKS, POLLY PLATT, JEREMY PIVEN with BEBE NEUWIRTH and PHILIP BAKER HALL
Dianne Court (Ione Skye) is the nervous valedictorian whose speech doesn’t connect with a single person from school. Lloyd Doddler (John Cusack) doesn’t want it to. He’s a sweet variation of the jock who’d score ten on ten on the vulnerability scale. In him, there’s much to love and little to comprehend – he’s the guy who’d ask you what you’d want for your birthday as much as he’s capable of springing a surprise on his own. And he can manage a full party at that, given the amount of people in his influence circle – one he plays ‘keymaster’ to.
‘Say Anything’ has a plot that I don’t even need to discuss. You'd see why. Dianne has won a fellowship to England, Lloyd doesn’t even know what he’s going to do the coming Summer. Dianne has a friend in her Father (John Mahoney), Lloyd has a big sister (Joan Cusack) to whom he plays older brother at times. And younger brother at other times. He finds close friends in DC (Amy Brooks) and Corey (Lili Taylor) while Dianne has muses at best. His is a world that she is yet to explore. Hers is one he wouldn’t if not for her. Let me quote some lines in support of that:
"I don’t know, I’ve thought about this quite a bit, Sir. And I don’t think there’s really much that’s waiting out there for me. I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, I wouldn’t buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or... processed. And I wouldn’t want to repair anything sold, bought or processed, as a career, I don’t want to do that. My Father’s in the army and he wants me to join, but eh... I can’t do that. What I’m going to do then is... kickboxing. Which is a new sport, but I think it’s got a good future."
Cameron Crowe is the best 80s filmmaker of the 90s. And the new millennium as well. Right down to his latest in ‘We Bought a Zoo’ (that I happened to watch/review a few days back), an unusual choice of film that he romanticized in his own way. He’s the epitome of extra-optimism characteristic of one who grew up with Springsteen and Rock-n-Roll; he ‘sticks.’ Enough to get you inspired; enough to get you wanting not to be. Either way, he’d trigger a response.
I’m reverse-processing the Crowe line of heroes here. ‘We Bought a Zoo’ had a really natural Matt Damon, complete with testy smile and the twinkle in his eye as the romantic, which he contrasted with a passable portrayal of the helpless Dad who didn’t know what to do to help his Son, only capable of holding on to him, hoping he’d cling. ‘Elizabethtown’ had Orlando Bloom in a surprising revelation of potential as the Crowe-romantic, which I think he followed up decently well in his segment with Christina Ricci in ‘New York, I Love you.’ ‘Jerry Maguire’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’ had Hollywood’s own jerk/loser in Tom Cruise (remember ‘Cocktail’?), while in ‘Almost Famous,’ he split man and boy to two different beings (Billy Crudup and Patrick Fugit), switching bodies every now and then.
‘Say Anything’ has John Cusack. I think he’s one of the most endearing of Hollywood heroes. Anyone who’s watched ‘Bullets over Broadway’ would side with me here. Like how someone who’s watched ‘Midnight in Paris’ would side with me on Owen Wilson as well, whom I’ve liked ever since Wes Anderson’s ‘Bottle Rocket’ (1996). These are really personal filmmakers we're talking about. Allen, Crowe; Alexander Payne. You can’t get any more personal than a Woody Allen protagonist does. Payne, I think, would come second best, where Crowe is ambition rather than depiction as such. Cusack would eventually go on to work his charm yet again with the inimitably sugar-coated ‘Serendipity’ that had Nick Drake as well to add to its worth.
Anyway, since this is a recollection (self-proclaimed) and not an actual ‘review’, let me quote another line.
“Are you here because you want someone or you want me? (pause) Well, you know what? Forget it. (goes ahead and kisses)”
Ione Skye is beautiful. Standout beautiful, I mean. In the sense that I wouldn’t want to watch another film of hers to foil the impression she’s made with this one. It’s a rare delight when actor and character mesh so well that you’re in a trance enough to not see their individual fibres. Like Julie Delpy in ‘Before Sunrise.’ Felicity Jones in ‘Like Crazy.’ Emily Watson in ‘Punch-Drunk Love,’ even though more abstract and less-emphasized. All these people substantiate a really pretty woman with character and intellect or simple street-smartness which, in essence, amounts to the same thing. And Skye, as Dianne, we find, is exactly what Corey and DC concur about her – that she’s “a Brain, trapped in the body of a game-show host.”
I don’t mean to patronize when I say this, or maybe I do mean to, but ‘Say Anything’ sets the romance standard. Contemporary urban cinema-wise, I mean. It has all the ingredients, where what’s best is that Crowe made the ingredients and he's made them with wild-eyed honesty and utmost care. I’d like to move for induction of the Crowe standard into the list of the seven basic plots in Film Theory as an upgrade of the 'Romeo and Juliet' routine. Who’s with me on this?