Jan. 18, 2008

Say Anything... (1989)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney

What it's about. The saga of a summer romance between two recent Seattle high school graduates who appear to have little in common. Diane (Ione Skye) is a beautiful, intelligent, and mature class valedictorian, headed for England on a fellowship. Lloyd (John Cusack) is an average student whose career plans consist of vague notions of becoming a professional kickboxer.

Naturally, Diane's divorced father, James (John Mahoney), believes that Lloyd is unworthy of his clearly special daughter, who has somehow managed to remain normal despite his father's skilled attempts to socially isolate her from peers. As the romance between Diane and Lloyd heats up, James' arguments against him begin to resemble those of another James, James Mason from Lolita. But he has problems of his own, as the Federal government is closing in on his larcenous management of a nursing home.

How others will see it. Lloyd and Diane are hot enough to inspire viewing from those so inclined, and romantics will cheer for the young couple to persevere.

How I felt about it. Naturally, we identify with our young lovers, Diane and Lloyd. These are good kids who don't drive drunk, use drugs, bully classmates, etc. Diane and Lloyd are the classic "good couple," and the only strains on them are caused by James' inevitable meddling and Diane's pending departure to England.

I have no quarrel with Lloyd's interest in, and devotion to, Diane. Likewise, since Lloyd is the first romantic interest in her sheltered life, it is understandable why she would fall for him. He's there for her, and he's nice.

The reconciliation between Lloyd and Diane is inevitable for a happy ending. But since it is a romantic movie, a happy ending isn't inevitable. There could be a tearjerker ending, and that possibility remains open. But if Diane decides to return to Lloyd, she has good reasons to. She only broke up with him since her dad opposed the relationship. But dad has been taken from his pedestal, and in fact has been taken to prison. Diane is on her own, and that can be a lonely (and even frightening) place to be when you are 18 years old.

The story is a bit suspect, though, when it comes to Lloyd's adorably eccentric out-crowd student friends. The most interesting and/or amusing among these is Corey (Lili Taylor), a singer/songwriter whose growing catalog of songs consists solely of rueful odes to Joe, a dufus ex-boyfriend she remains obsessed with. The problem is, Lloyd shares none of the unpopular quirks or attributes of his friends, and in fact appears to be completely normal and free from self-destruction aside from his ill-advised notion of becoming a professional kick-boxer.

Say Anything... also struggles to balance comedy and drama. Lloyd's friends are comic relief, but Diane's relationship with Lloyd and James is dramatic. Dramas can have elements of comedy, and vice versa. But the mix is only successful if both the comedy and drama feel genuine. With this movie, the drama works fairly well, and the comedy does not.