“I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.”
Back when I reviewed the Toy Story box set, I said that there are some films that are just magical, that hold a place near and dear to your heart. I mentioned it because those movies are a couple that are like that for me. The Star Wars movies are also on that list, for I’m one of those hallowed many that grew up during its heyday. I mentioned, I think, just one other movie: Say Anything. For a list by an avowed film geek, and considering its company, it may be a surprising inclusion.
I first saw Say Anything on a rainy day in October. It was at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, and I was completely smitten by a girl I had met the year before. Unfortunately, she didn’t come back to school that next year, but fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my bank account, and fortunately for AT&T), we maintained a long-distance friendship that turned into a budding romance. That October day I drove the 300 or so miles to visit her. It being a rainy day and all, we went to the video store to rent a couple flicks. I picked Groundhog Day, since it was both funny and romantic, and she hadn’t seen it (and I think she said no to every Schwarzenegger flick I suggested). She picked Say Anything because it was one of her favorite movies, and I hadn’t seen it. We watched her movie first, after which I cooked her dinner (her house and I’m cooking…this would become a key component of our relationship). Then we watched Groundhog Day, after which we kissed for the first time. Oh, that girl is now my wife, and I still cook for her. You’d think that Groundhog Day, after that pivotal day in our relationship, would be the movie I’d come away having fond feelings for, but nope, it’s the other one. See, it was the first movie I saw from its writer/director, Cameron Crowe, whom I now greatly respect and admire, and it was a completely, amazingly real romance that still manages to choke me up.
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is completely smitten by a girl who barely knows him, Diane Court (Ione Skye). He’s one of those drifting, intellectual, iconoclastic types we all know (or might even be ourselves). She’s both brainy and beautiful, one of those drive-to-succeed types we all know (or might even be ourselves, but that’s not nearly as likely). Lloyd manages to raise the nerve to ask Diane out, and much to his surprise (and to hers as well) she says yes. Their date is at a post-graduation party, where the two don’t spend much time together, but Diane learns much about herself (everyone knows of her, but no one knows her) and Lloyd (everyone knows Lloyd and greatly respects him). She finds herself strangely drawn to him because of his wit and great respect for her. The two vow to only be “friends with potential,” but find that their love for each other goes much deeper than that. However, their love is called into question when Diane’s father (played by John Mahoney) runs into legal problems because of his shady dealings, and she must weigh her loyalty to father or to Lloyd.
I’m afraid my summary of the film does it little justice. It’s the same problem I faced when I reviewed Crowe’s Almost Famous (I still have the “Bootleg Edition” in my pile of things to review), and why I’ve never tackled reviewing his sophomore film, Singles. Cameron Crowe, as anyone who knows that Almost Famous was semi-autobiographical knows, was something of a prodigy. He was years ahead of his peers, and possessed an uncanny gift not just for writing, but for observing the people around him. His teenaged writing for Rolling Stone was insightful beyond his years. Later, he returned to high school to observe what would’ve been his peers, and that became the basis for his novel and eventual screenplay for Fast Times At Ridgemont High. (I’m getting to my problem reviewing his films…have patience.) His writing drifted for a few years until with the help of über-producer James L. Brooks he penned the screenplay for his first directorial effort, Say Anything. Next up was another relationship film, Singles, that this time looked at the post-college years and the romance troubles of a group of tangentially connected friends in the Seattle area. (It’s at this point I fulfill my “must mention Tim Burton in every review” quotient by mentioning that he had a one-word cameo in the film. The one word? “Twenty.”) He went mainstream with Jerry Maguire, yet still managed to make a film that insightfully looked at romance in the real world. (Notice how that word “insightful” keeps coming up?) He went autobiographical and nostalgic with Almost Famous, looking at love amongst rock stars and the people who love them. His most recent movie, Vanilla Sky…well, I’m waiting for the DVD.
Back to my problem reviewing Cameron Crowe’s films. The problem comes because it’s very difficult to summarize them. They’re not about plot so much as about the relationships between the characters, relationships that are presciently and insightfully detailed and that are altogether real. Lloyd and Diane are one of the best examples of cinematic love since Rick and Ilsa, but there’s nothing cinematic about the relationship. Romance in films too often feels slick, forced, and artificial, yet here we understand completely why these two are attracted to each other. Their love isn’t based on your typical movie concepts of mutual physical attraction — it’s the love between friends, between two people who understand and respect each other. Even when they succumb to their physical attraction and “make love” in the back seat of his car, it doesn’t feel like they did it just because they were horny teenagers — it’s because their souls were drawn together and it was an honest expression of their feelings. Maybe I’m completely out of touch with reality, but that seems more real to me than the guys of the same age bracket in American Pie who only think about banging a hot chick and then crowing about their conquest.
This isn’t to say that Say Anything isn’t your typical romance, because at its core it has the same boy wins girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back plot that has driven so many romances in the past. Where it’s different is in the details. Lloyd doesn’t hang out with his buds getting sex tips; he hangs out with a couple female friends who tell him not to be a guy, but to be a man. Diane’s father’s legal troubles aren’t just a misunderstanding; they’re real. What’s even more different here is that it isn’t a clear-cut “he was bad” sort of pronouncement. James Court is a good man and cares about the elderly charges at his nursing home, and even the people he fleeced don’t seem to mind. You almost feel sorry for the guy at the end when he’s in jail, his dyed hair returning to its natural gray, resorting to smoking (which you find out in the deleted scenes he had strong feelings against). I can’t recall the exact quote, but in a recent interview, Cameron Crowe commented that a studio executive asked him why Diane’s dad had to be guilty. His answer was that if James Court wasn’t guilty, the movie wouldn’t be any different than Pretty In Pink.
Of course, the best writing in the world would be only words if they were not brought to life by some great acting. John Cusack was very reluctant to play the lead in what was essentially a teen romance, and because of this he brings a certain edge to it that you wouldn’t see some other actors bring to such a role. If you watch the alternate takes for the famous boombox scene, you’ll see the defiance he wanted to bring to it, like he’s gonna love Diane no matter what she thinks about him. Speaking of Diane, Ione Skye embodies the brainy, beautiful girl with charm, class, naïveté, and undeniable charisma. Ione Skye has an extensive résumé, but sadly she hasn’t appeared in many notable films — bit roles in Wayne’s World and Four Rooms are about as notable as it gets. John Mahoney is well known for Frasier, of course, but that belies the complexity he brings to James Court, a single divorced father who honestly cares about the elderly people he works with, yet he feels little guilt about stealing from them to provide a nest egg for his daughter.
The DVD of Say Anything has been a long time in coming, and thankfully it was worth the wait. Video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s not pristine, but it’s certainly acceptable. Colors are a bit subdued, though black levels are deep without washing out detail. There’s minimal edge enhancement or pixelization. It can be a bit grainy, but it’s not distracting and it’s something that’s expected from a movie over ten years old. Source artifacts are at a minimum. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround, both remixed from its theatrical stereo. It’s forward centric except for the music, an integral part of all Cameron Crowe films.
The laundry list of features is as follows: a commentary track, ten deleted scenes, 13 extended scenes, five alternate scenes, a featurette, two trailers, eight TV spots, and a photo gallery. Whew. The commentary track features Cameron Crowe, John Cusack, and Ione Skye. It’s a fun, informative track that never lags. If that’s not good enough, it’s not just a commentary track — there’s a 20-minute introduction with the three of them sharing their memories before the movie even starts! The deleted/extended/alternate scenes add up to nearly 50 minutes of extra footage. Some of it is redundant, but that’s fine, because it shows the actors and director honing the movie into the perfection that it is. The best moments are the alternate takes of the boombox scene that I alluded to earlier, for you get to hear the music that was actually playing on the boombox while they were shooting. Let’s just say that it was not Peter Gabriel’s now-famous “In Your Eyes.” The featurette is just a promotional puff piece from the movie’s release, clocking in at seven minutes, and is hardly worth mentioning. Voice Over Lady has the nerve to call Lloyd and Diane “the modern-day Romeo and Juliet,” though I’m fairly certain there were no warring families or suicide pacts, but it’s balanced out by Cameron Crowe calling Lloyd a “warrior for optimism.” I think I just found what I want to be written on my tombstone. The trailers and TV spots are nothing special, but they at least seem like a harbinger that the glam of the ’80s was soon to be replaced by the brooding introspection of the ’90s. The photo gallery consists of a handful of Cameron Crowe’s pictures taken on set, and curiously most of them are of John Mahoney. All told, the bulk of the features aren’t all that interesting, but the commentary and extra footage more than makes up for it.
In case my feelings for the movie weren’t already clear, I definitely recommend adding Say Anything to your DVD library. It’s difficult to find a romantic film nowadays that isn’t insulting to one’s intelligence. How refreshing it is to find one that isn’t just uninsulting, but that is witty and intelligent and true to what you’ll find in the real world. Even you manly men should be able to appreciate it without feeling the need to brush it off as something on your DVD shelf for your significant other. If you really need to give your friend Joe-Bob the welder an excuse, you can say it’s a kickboxing movie or something. It’s the sport of the future.