Montreal Film Journal


"I want to get hurt!"

Aww! You know that feeling when you're watching a movie for the first time, and it grabs you right away and it gets better and better until the very end? This is one of those very special films. Not only is it terrific entertainment, it's also an unbelievably smart film. For a reason I can't understand, this ain't that well known a film, so it took me nearly 10 years to see it. It's my colleague Roger Ebert who got me to finally see it when he called "Say Anything..." the best high school movie of all time. And you know what: he's right!

"I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation."

John Cusack stars as Lloyd Dobler, a quirky but charming young man who would like to spend his life kickboxing and listening to loud music. He's a "basic", straightforward guy who just lacks confidence in himself. He often gets nervous and when he does, he blabbers and keeps blabbing, trying to give himself some contenance. Lloyd is one of these nice guys who hangs out with chicks, and they all think he's the best... AS A FRIEND! Aargh! What's the deal with women always saying to guys like Lloyd that he's so much better than all the others, but then turning around and going after the macho pricks? Lloyd's friend Corey (Lily Taylor), a depressed teenage girl who expresses herself with her guitar is just the type. She's been obsessed with her careless ex Joe forever, but she keeps telling Lloyd that all guys should be like him. Yet he's the one who never had a girlfriend...

"If you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise."

Diane Court (Ione Skye) is beautiful, charming and brilliant, but she's not popular. She barely has a social life. It's probably because she's the class brain, so people kinda admire her, but they don't get to know her. It might also be because she spends almost all her time with her father (John Mahoney), who runs a nursing home. He's the most surprising character in the film. In nearly all high school movies, adults are just incomprehensive dimwits, but Mahoney's character is an intelligent, caring man. His daughter and him are very close: they've come to a point where they can say anything to each other. Among other things, the film is about this trust between them, and whether it will hold on as the IRS accused him of tax evasion and she gets a boyfriend.

"Why are you shaking?"
"I don't know. I think I'm happy."

But of course, the film's central theme is the beautiful awkwardness of first love. Lloyd is in love with Diane and he asks her out, but she refuses at first. She was awarded a fellowship to go study in England in the fall, and she needs time to get herself ready. But Lloyd keeps asking and she says what the heck, and they go on a date. And so begins the film, one of the very best romantic comedies ever made, and so much more. Cameron Crowe is an amazing writer. His film is sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, always refreshing, insightful and thought-provoking. Every scene is just right; this film doesn't even know of phoniness. The characters are three-dimensional, as opposed to beings just stereotypes like in so many Hollywood movies. Crowe can really tap himself on the back. I couldn't think of a single thing wrong with this perfect film. Even the soundtrack is awesome, featuring great songs by Cheap Trick, Fishbone, Depeche Mode, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Soundgarden, The Replacements and most memorably, Peter Gabriel, with his exquisite In Your Eyes.

"One question: are you here because you need someone, or cause you need me? Forget it. I don't care."

And what about the acting! John Cusack is at his best ever. He shows great enthusiasm, he's fun and charismatic and he's always true to his character, with whom every young guy will identify. Ione Skye is equally good as the more serious Diane. She's as talented as she's gorgeous. The film also features Cusack's sister Joan as, well, his sister, Jeremy Piven and Eric Stoltz as wild party guys and Philip Baker Hall as a boss at the IRS. "Say Anything..." is truly a film everyone should see. It's about something, and it knows about it. I agree that movies can be great escapism, but it's even better when they also make you realize stuff about life. You owe yourself to see this masterpiece as soon as possible.

"Nobody thinks it will work, do they?"
"You just described every great success story."