Saturday, April 11, 2009

Say Anything (1989)

Retro Active Critique #2:

While watching "Say Anything", written and directed by Cameron Crowe, I discovered something: I'm quite satisfied with my criteria in handling critiques, that I can choose from any film or TV show, whether current or released many moons ago. Quite liberal in its parameters. And when there is the lucky chance I'll see a classic or iconic film for the first time, critiquing it could be quite fun.

As in the case of "Say Anything". I had never seen it before, and it's been a part of the collective consciousness since its release. Finally able to see why, for myself, I was pleased to find that there are many wonderful moments; that its cinematic significance is more than justified. And now for me it's no longer simply, you know... that movie where John Cusack holds up a boom box above his head playing 'In Your Eyes'. But what a great character Lloyd Dobler turns out to be, just as the film's reputation has long indicated.

But onto the critique, and as I expect most would know that it is about Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), an underachiever type, who falls in love with the overachiever valedictorian of his high school, Diane Court (Ione Skye), upon graduating. The story takes place in Seattle, Washington. Diane has received a substantial fellowship to study in England, and while her time is limited before going abroad, Lloyd is determined to spend as much of it with her as possible.

The triumph of "Say Anything" is not only that it is about honesty and decency, but also its real development at the core of the story: a young woman's transition from her first protective and loving figure (the father) to the next (the relationship), and how in this case the better man, Lloyd, wins her trust. It is about the virtue of being completely transparent, which LLoyd is. Diane's father loves and respects her more than anything, and he is convincing as a very virtuous man. But once it comes to light that he had in fact taken certain liberties in his nursing home business, and the IRS has been investigating him, it becomes clear that Lloyd is even more decent than he, and that Diane can comfortably and safely transition to being with him as her supporter and protector.

Having been aware of this film's strong following for such a long time, but never having seen it for myself, part of my viewing of it became a curiosity of sorts, my seeking to unravel the mystery and the origin of its romantic affect on people. It certainly has that affect - it has been on countless best film or best romantic film lists, and in 2002 it was ranked number one in Entertainment Weekly's list for best modern romantic films. Lloyd Dobler, the character, also has a major following. There are plenty of groups and websites dedicated to him, and he is the inspiration for one band's name, called The Lloyd Dobler Effect.

So what is the cause for this Lloyd Dobler/ "Say Anything" effect? I believe it is the fact that in male/female romantic relationships, the most inherently romantic thing is for a girl to feel protected and for a guy to protect his girl. And that is what moves Lloyd like a magnet to be with Diane. He seems to believe, and even tells her father at the end, that the one thing he is sure he's good at is being with Diane. That is his greatest ambition, and will be his greatest achievement in life as he sees it. And so, as it turns out when Lloyd wins the girl, he is not an underachiever after all. He just needed to find Diane to focus his energy on. This may sound stifling for Diane, but it's not, because he's a real man about it. He's strong and he just wants his lady love to shine, and to be with her every step of the way to ensure her comfort.

Truth is, no matter how far we believe we've come, or how evolved we think we are, that is still inherently the most romantic notion for both men and women: for the woman, to find someone who feels that way about her; and for a man, to find someone to feel that way about... It is the age-old story, like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, only here is the late 80's, grungier version of a classic fairy tale. Lloyd is Prince Charming, or that knight in shining armor –– holding his boom box high above his head like a shiny sword. He is dedicated to his mission and professes his love for Diane in the most stoic of ways. That is the romantic motivation Cameron Crowe so simply and beautifully tapped into with "Say Anything". And, that is why so many people have responded to the film.

Of course this critique couldn't be complete without revisiting "In Your Eyes", so here's a nice version to take us out:

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