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20/20 Filmsight - Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Say Anything...

July 8th 2011 03:08
by David O’Connell

Looking back at how some familiar and famous cinematic figures first made lasting impressions on audiences is an enjoyable though sometimes embarrassing experience. John Cusack continues to endure, in his younger days often reliably called upon for edgy dramas that had their finger on the pulse of popular taste. In its day, Grosse Point Blank (1997) was considered the hippest of indie filmmaking. At around the same time Cusack’s brand suffered a minor blow to its credibility when he signed up for his first mindless action romp in the gleefully stupid Con Air (1997).

But thankfully our first exposure to the inspired genius of Charlie Kaufman allowed Cusack to hop back aboard the gravy train to his previous high standing in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich (1999). Then there was Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (2000) which, although given a sacrilegious transference of locale across the pond, was always going to be a sure fire winner; the inclusion of a frenetic Jack Black only sealed the deal.

Back in 1989 Cameron Crowe’s debut Say Anything... first appeared in cinemas. The basic plot description, upon first glance, is hardly the stuff of daring originality: a just graduating high schooler, Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler, who has a certain hipness about him but belongs not to any cool clique, has an irrepressible crush on an uppity brunette who seems beyond his reach.

Diane Court (Ione Skye), watched over by a single parent in father James (John Mahoney), seems headed for further education in England. But when Dobler summons the courage to ask her to a party she agrees in spite of herself, almost in mild defiance of her father who couldn’t possibly approve of an aimless kid - good intentions aside - who sees his future interwoven with that of the fast-rising new sport of kickboxing which he predicts may one day sweep the world.

Cusack is brilliant as the loose and carefree Dobler whose nervousness around Diane in the early scenes is quickly erased by the restatement of his natural swagger. To him she’s an ideal - the kind of seemingly untouchable girl he aspires to hang with. His courage surprises him but he doesn’t falter beyond a few moments of mental reappraisal.

His fresh approach bears fruit quickly, for Diane is won over, even surprising herself when she decides she might even be up for a second date. At this point, she’s obviously so used to being treated like an exotic art prize or evaded for her air of superiority.

So what of the absurdly monikered Ione Skye? Her promising career, mostly predicted from a viewpoint of physical admiration, simply evaporated, leaving her to fend for second rate roles that neither you nor I - even the most diehard of cinephiles - can claim to have seen. It’s not such a surprising outcome; even in Say Anything… it’s clear Skye’s talents were limited; a pretty face can take some performers only so far.

The work of Mahoney is as much of a joy as Cusack’s contribution. In him we see the devoted, over-protective father. But Crowe doesn’t overwrite him to the point where empathy is lost. He makes welcome allowances to stretch his definition of what constitutes an acceptable boyfriend for Diane without clamping down in the way of the zealous, one-dimensional father we see wielding his authority over their teens in films of this ilk – and especially from this era. There’s a serious subplot that affects his relationship with her and it makes for a nice diversion from the central romance.

I’d have to admit that Say Anything…, which bears superficial similarities to another defining teen comedy of its era in Valley Girl (1983), has aged remarkably well. Most surprising is the depth of characterisation it displays whilst, beyond the sometimes hideous 80’s taste in music and attire, a familiar pulse tattoos its way into our consciousness. I’ve never quite gelled with Crowe’s sensibilities but this blast from the past may have revived some personal interest in his sparse body of work which reached an impenetrable nadir in Vanilla Sky (2001). Could a third attempt to get through Jerry Maguire be in the wind? Bring on his new flick, We Bought a Zoo. Did I really just say that?

I say: A nostalgic blast that won't leave you shuddering with the embarrassment of it all. Could it still be one of Crowe's best films?

See it for: Cusack and Mahoney - and out of curiosity as to why Skye's career in cinema was grounded so early on.

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6 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Bryn

July 8th 2011 03:47
I had a big crush on Ione around this time, after seeing her in River's Edge.

Comment by David O'Connell

July 8th 2011 03:57
Yeah, she was very pretty Bryn, no doubt about it, but sadly not much of an actor.

Comment by Matt Shea

July 8th 2011 04:02
I had a big crush on Ione around this time, after seeing her in River's Edge.


I agree with you, Dave, about never quite getting with Crowe's sensibilities. But he's the kind of guy that movie-making is better for having around.

It's interesting to hear Mother Love Bone on the soundtrack too - an early indicator of the explosion in Seattle music that would take place during the following years.

Comment by David O'Connell

July 8th 2011 05:54
Very true Matt it was indeed a sign of things to come.
Don't know what it is about Crowe, Almost Famous never really interested me either. Wasn't a fan at all but this film has me interested in revisiting a few of the others now.

Comment by MelG

July 8th 2011 09:09
I saw this for the first time in years, recently. I still love it. I had huge crush on John Cusack after this film. OK, I admit, I still do, just a little bit! The picture you posted is from my favourite scene. I was so influenced by it that I even bought the Peter Gabriel CD just so I could listen to 'In Your Eyes' over and over again. Sad, but true!!

Comment by Bryn

July 9th 2011 03:17
Cameron Crowe has never done much for me at all.

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