Cameron Crowe’s 1989 directorial debut is an appealing film about a romance between two very different young people living in Seattle. One is a beautiful valedictorian, winner of a fellowship to study in England. The other is more interested in kickboxing than college.
In the early scenes, newly graduated Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) tries to work up the nerve to ask valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) on a date. His close female friends (Lili Taylor, Amy Brooks, Pamela Adlon) call Diane “a brain trapped inside the body of a game show hostess”. Out of his league, in other words. The hopelessly smitten Lloyd calls anyway and is surprised when Diane agrees to go to a party that night.
Diane’s overprotective father, James (John Mahoney) is not thrilled by her date with Lloyd. He is even less happy when Diane and Lloyd continue to go out. James is a single father, and he thinks nothing is too good for his little girl. He continually gives Diane expensive presents; James affords these by stealing from residents of the nursing home where he works.
Under pressure from James, Diane ends her relationship with Lloyd. Both young people are miserable. Soon after, IRS agents show up to charge James with embezzlement. Diane and Lloyd must sort out their feelings and priorities before taking their next steps in life.
Crowe was thirty-one when Say Anything… was released, but he had been working in show business for nearly two decades. At age thirteen, he began writing music reviews for an underground publication called The San Diego Door. This led to his reporting for Rolling Stone while still a teenager (events from that time later formed the basis for his Oscar-winning screenplay, Almost Famous).
At age twenty-two, Crowe decided to pose as a high school student and record his experiences. The result is his book Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which Crowe also adapted for the screen. He wrote the script for its 1984 follow up, The Wild Life, which brought him to the attention of filmmaker James L. Brooks (Terms Of Endearment, Broadcast News). Brooks acted as executive producer for Say Anything….
Crowe drew from a failed romance in his own life to create the main outlines of the story. He based Lloyd on his neighbor of the time, a kickboxing enthusiast. Lili Taylor’s Corey, who writes and performs endless songs about her ex-boyfriend, is based on an actual person. John Mahoney’s James, on the other hand, was written to distinguish him from the dad played by Harry Dean Stanton in another popular film based in high school, 1986’s Pretty In Pink.
What emerges is a gentle comedy about falling in love. People might make bad choices, but no one does so from being mean-spirited. That being said, I found the treatment of James’ embezzlement in the narrative awkward. I thought it occurred and resolved a bit too abruptly, especially given its impact on the Lloyd/Diane romance.
Cusack and Skye have genuine chemistry as the teenaged lovers (although Cusack gets most of the best lines). I like Mahoney’s performance, just think the narrative paints him into corners at times. Lili Taylor is a delight as the Joe-obsessed Corey.
Veteran cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces) gives Seattle a dreamy beauty. Production design by Mark Mansbridge contributes to this, as does the soft rock score by Richard Gibbs and Anne Dudley.
Theme: Leaving High School
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