Say Anything...

Say Anything...
Director: Cameron Crowe
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe
Stars: John Cusack (Lloyd Dobbler), Ione Skye (Diane Court), John Mahoney (James Court), Lili Taylor (Corey Flood), Amy Brooks (D.C.), Pamela Segall (Rebecaa), Joan Cusack (Constance), Jason Gould (Mike Cameron), Loren Dean (Joe)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1989
Country: USA
Say Anything DVD Cover

Say Anything... is an honest, good-natured film about first love that holds hard reality and eternal optimism in a gentle balancing act. In his directorial debut, Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) works the magic of an alchemist, turning the stuff of everyday life into little golden nuggets of insight into that wonderful and awkward moment in life when teenagers graduate from high school and find themselves on the brink of entering the adult world.

When the film was first released, Crowe was already well-known as the former Rolling Stone writer who had penned Fast Times at Ridgemont (1982) and The Wild Life (1986), both teen movies, the former of which had kernels of truth amongst its bawdy humor and the latter of which was completely divorced from the real world. When Crowe sat down to write Say Anything..., he wanted to make it real; he wanted to address the complexities of the lives of young adults in a way that most teen movies weren't doing. He succeeded magnificently.

The main character is Lloyd Dobbler, played by John Cusack, himself a veteran of '80s teen movies such as Savage Steve Holland's Better Off Dead (1989) and One Crazy Summer (1986) and Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing (1985). Even though (or perhaps because) he was graduating to more adult roles, Cusack was able to bring to the role of Lloyd an endearing combination of the crucial elements of youthful optimism and an adult understanding of how the world really works. Crowe has described Lloyd as his "warrior for optimism," which is an accurate description. Lloyd has hope, but he doesn't the conventional kind of dreams he is expected to have. He doesn't know what he wants to do with his life; but, like Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), he knows he doesn't want it to be typical. His father, who is stationed overseas, wants him to join the army, and his school counselor wants him to enroll in the local community college, both conventional futures that don't fit this unconventional young man, whose most specific goal is to maybe become a professional kick-boxer. "I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation," he says at one point.

The one thing Lloyd does know he wants, though, is to go out with Diane Court (Ione Skye). "Girls like Diane Court don't go out with guys like you," declares Lloyd's best friend, Corey (Lili Taylor), who herself knows something about love and heartbreak, as she is obsessed with her ex-boyfriend, a cad named Joe (Loren Dean), about whom she has written 65 songs. Described as "a brain trapped in the body of a game-show hostess," Diane would appear to be out of Lloyd's league. The class valedictorian who everybody knows of, but few people actually know, Diane has just won a prestigious fellowship to study abroad in England, something that pleases her father (John Mahoney), a divorcee who has put his heart and soul into raising the perfect daughter, to no end.

But, being the eternal optimist who will not see the world as others define it for him, Lloyd calls Diane and asks her out. She is reluctant at first, but eventually she agrees--Lloyd's persistence wears her down. They go to a party, at which Lloyd is asked several times how he got Diane to go out with him. "I called her up," he replies matter-of-factly, because that is how his mind works. Lloyd then goes to Diane's house for dinner, they begin spending time together as friends, and, as Diane spends more and more time with him, she sees exactly what he is about and how he is everything she has missed out on in life while studying and disciplining herself to be top of the class. He offers her simple pleasures, emotional support, and, most of all, absolute love and honesty.

Crowe structures Say Anything... as a love triangle, in which Diane finds herself caught between her dedicated father, whom she chose to live with when her parents divorced five years earlier and to whom she can say anything (she even admits to him when she and Lloyd sleep together for the first time), and Lloyd, who her father sees as unworthy of his daughter's attention. "You're a distraction," he declares at one point, which illustrates how little he actually knows. A subplot involving an IRS investigation of Diane's father's nursing home slowly develops into a momentous break in which everything Diane thought she knew turns out to be a lie--and in which she is forced to realize who in her life is truly honest.

Say Anything... works beautifully throughout for a number of reasons. Crowe's script is honest and straightforward in its simplicity, yet deeply moving in its details and nuances. He has a way with dialogue in which characters are able to speak volumes without saying much at all. He brings depth and insight to screen cliches--the warm-hearted underachiever, the socially repressed valedictorian, the overbearing father. He starts with types, but allows them to become flesh and blood on screen, people we understand and vaguely recognize, people we can feel with and for.

Of course, Crowe's writing would fall flat if he hadn't found the right actors, and the film soars in its performances. John Cusack and Ione Skye, first of all, look like and act like ordinary teenagers, something that is surprisingly rare in many teen movies. Cusack has a wonderful nervous energy throughout; the scene in which he first calls Diane and ends up talking to her father is a wonderful setpiece situated in a tiny bathroom that captures everything that is exciting and horrifying about that first phone call. At that moment, he is so hopeful, yet so vulnerable. Ione Skye completes the film as Diane, in an emotionally complex performance that requires her to be both completely confident in herself and yet utterly unsure of everything. It is also worth mentioning the excellent work of John Mahoney, now best known for his role on Frasier, in playing a man who is ultimately a villain of sorts, yet one who is both understandable and sympathetic.

The 1980s were an era in which the teen movie--primarily those directed and/or written by John Hughes--ruled the movie theaters. There were teen dramas, teen comedies, teen musicals, teen horror flicks, and just about every other kind of movie with teenagers in them, and when Say Anything... was released in the spring of 1989, the decade-long cycle seemed to have run its course. But, as these things tend to go, it turned out that they had saved the best for last.

Say Anything... Special Edition DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AudioDolby Digital 5.1 surround
Dolby 2.0 surround
LanguagesEnglish (5.1, 2.0), French (2.0)
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
SupplementsAudio commentary by writer/director Cameron Crowe and stars John Cusack and Ione Skye
Production featurette
10 deleted scenes
13 extended scenes
5 alternate scenes
Photo gallery
2 theatrical trailers
8 TV spots
Distributor 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment
Release DateMarch 5, 2002

Say Anything... is presented in a new anamorphic transfer in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This transfer is a definite improvement over both the earlier full-frame VHS editions and the laser disc. Colors seem natural and well-saturated, while the print used was generally clean, with only mild instances of any dirt or age artifacts. The image itself is a bit grainy and slightly soft, although detail does not suffer (this is likely a result of the original film stock and the shooting style of veteran cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs).

One of the strongest elements of Say Anything..., as has been true of almost all of Cameron Crowe's films, has been the soundtrack. Being a veteran of Rolling Stone, Crowe is extremely knowledgeable about popular music and how to use it effectively in his movies. From the unforgettable romantic employment of Peter Gabriel's beautiful ballad "In Your Eyes," to the use of guitar legend Joe Satriani's "One Big Rush" during Lloyd's kickboxing practice, the selection of music throughout the film is near-perfect. Coming as it did on the border between the '80s and the '90s, the soundtrack for Say Anything... has aged quite well. This DVD offers a new Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround remix in addition to the original two-channel surround mix. The music, obviously, benefits most from the remix, although it still sounds somewhat restricted despite the aural expansion into the multiple channels. The remix is effective, nonetheless, as it heightens the importance of the music throughout while maintaining natural-sounding dialogue.

One of the problems with audio commentaries is that those doing them often run out of things to say, leaving large gaps of silence. This is not the problem with the screen-specific yak track on this special-edition disc by writer/director Cameron Crowe and stars John Cusack and Ione Skye, who reunite for the first time in years to remember the making of the film. In fact, they have so much to say that there is 21 minutes of commentary before the movie even begins (it is played over still images from the film and behind-the-scenes photographs), in which they talk about how the project came together and how each got involved (I was surprised and pleased to learn what an active role executive producer James L. Brooks had in the film's development). During the commentary proper, the three participants rarely let up, telling stories, asking each other questions, sometimes stopping to laugh at the movie's best moments. The track is also replete with interesting trivia tidbits, such as the fact that Julia Roberts was nearly cast as one of Lloyd's girlfriends and there are small roles for both Barbara Steisand's son and David Lee Roth's little sister.

As we know from the recent release of the "Bootleg Version" of Almost Famous (2000), Cameron Crowe tends to shoot more footage than he ultimately uses, and it turns out that Say Anything... was no different. This disc includes a large supplement of unseen footage (all presented in anamorphic widescreen): 10 scenes that were deleted entirely (many of which expand on Diane's father's problems with the IRS), as well as 13 extended versions and 5 alternate versions of scenes already in the movie (the back cover claims that the alternate scenes offer optional commentary by Crowe, but it was apparently left off the disc). For the most part, I can say that Crowe was wise in not using the material here, as it is generally weaker than what wound up in the finished film. But, it's always interesting to see the alternatives, as it affords a fascinating glimpse into the process of how a movie gets put together and how crucial the editing room is.

Also included on this disc is a largely worthless seven-minute production featurette that was obviously part of the original press kit in 1989. Mostly filled with scenes from the film and a point-by-point run-down of the plot, it includes brief snippets of interviews with Crowe, Cusack, Skye, and John Mahoney.

Two theatrical trailers (both in anamorphic widescreen) are included, as are eight TV spots and "Cameron Crowe's Personal Photo Album," which is a brief gallery of eight black-and-white behind-the-scenes photographs.

Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (4)

James Kendrick

James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

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