Rom-Com Review: "Say Anything"

Photo Credit: Fox Network

Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: April 14, 1989
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance

The history of cinema is littered with movie moments that transcend even the films themselves and become part of the pop culture iconography. Recent decades have seen relatively few of these moments, with a few notable exceptions. Maybe the most famous of these is a young John Cusack, standing below the house of the woman of his dreams and holding a boom box aloft. The boom box is playing "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, but Cusack's character Lloyd remains mostly silent. This scene, and image, ingrained itself into the popular consciousness like few other pieces of culture in the 1980s. As iconic as the scene is, it overshadows a charming and moving teen comedy that portended great things to come for Cusack and writer/director Cameron Crowe.

The 1980s were a golden age for teenage-centric movies. This was due in large part to the brilliance of the late John Hughes and enduring works like "The Breakfast Club" and "Sixteen Candles," which also starred Cusack. The decade also brought with it a number of non-Hughes teen flicks spurred on by the success of those classics. Some, which remain nameless, are best left forgotten. However, others like the dark and wonderful cult classic "Heathers," have stood the test of time. The 1989 film "Say Anything" is in the latter camp, with a cleverness and agreeableness that hold up decades later.

Set in Cameron Crowe's beloved Seattle, "Say Anything" tells the story of recent high school graduate Lloyd Dobler, played with layered and quirky realism by John Cusack. Lloyd is vaguely unsure about himself and his life, but unlike some more recent cinematic characters around the same age, he is not filled with angst or is just very young and not yet certain about what he wants to do with his life. Cusack has a way of being ineffably likable, and it does not take long for him to get the audience on his side.

While not as directly referential as "Almost Famous," "Say Anything" is likely autobiographical for Crowe, at least on an emotional level. This comes through not with the events of the film, but rather with its realism and honesty. This is a heightened comedy, but at least its protagonist is refreshingly true to life. This is another facet that makes the movie unusually compelling and helped make its climactic scene so famous.

Lloyd's love interest is Diane Court, played by Ione Skye. Unlike Lloyd, Diane's path to success seems to be clearly blazed in front of her. She is the valedictorian and has a scholarship to study in England. Although Lloyd is smitten in a teenage way, his friends warn him that she is out of his league socially. Unfortunately, Diane's own father agrees after the two begin dating.

John Mahoney gives a typically empathetic performance as Diane's father. The actor has a knack for bringing pathos to any character, and even though he is overprotective and battling legal problems, the character never comes across as the villain he would be in a less intelligent comedy. He does not like Lloyd's vagueness and convinces his daughter, at least partially, to nip the fledgling relationship in the bud.

However, the two grads have a natural, easy chemistry that is portrayed most effectively through scenes of driving lessons and seaside trysts. Rather than being cliché, the relationship evolves gently, believably and even awkwardly on screen. It becomes clear that both characters are insecure and unsure about how to proceed with things, and it makes Diane's attempts to break things off all the more heartbreaking.

As Lloyd tries to win her back, the audience cannot help be on his side all the way, including during the movie's most famous scene. Almost every romantic comedy attempts scenes like this movie's emotional apex, but few are able to approach these heights. "Say Anything" earns each and every one of its moments. While the legal subplot could potentially undermine the realism and humanity of the rest of the picture, like everything else, it resolves in a way that is believable and satisfying.

Although Cameron Crowe lucked out with a perfect cast and one of the best pop songs of the decade, "Say Anything" demonstrates the hallmark of his best work. This includes an accessible sense of humor mixed with an extraordinary sense of humanity and real-life emotions, not just the simplified ones audiences see in movies all too often. Those who know little, or nothing, more about "Say Anything" than the boom box scene are missing out on one of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s.