This review might be a bit out of the ordinary, but I couldn’t resist.
Friday night, I had the opportunity to see the 1989 classic “Say Anything,” followed by “A Conversation with John Cusack.” The Cameron Crowe film is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that Friday night’s viewing proved to be my second time seeing the film.
I know, I know, but I was only 8 when the movie came out. Honestly, I didn’t see a lot of ’80s cult classics until much later in life. I’m pretty certain I was in my mid-to-late 20s before I ever saw “The Breakfast Club” or “Footloose,” I think. (I still haven’t seen “Die Hard.”)
I was kind of familiar with “Say Anything,” though. I knew it was the boom box movie; and honestly, isn’t that what first pops into your head when you think of it? Maybe knowing it was the “boom box movie” isn’t really what Crowe or the cast would want us to remember, but oh well.
They might hope we remember the brilliant Lloyd Dobler (Cusack), who somehow manages to be the perfect boyfriend despite having very little experience. He’s sweet, quirky and would do just about anything for the girl he likes, which happens to be Diane (Ione Skye), the smart, quiet girl that doesn’t have a lot of friends.
They’re an odd couple, but they also kind of work, considering they’re both loners that don’t really fit a mold.
Some might remember the film’s “villain” that comes along in the form of Diane’s father, James (John Mahoney). He’s such a friendly, charismatic guy you’d never suspect him of doing something dastardly. At least not 30 years ago. In today’s time, you know the friendly, charismatic character is likely going to do horrible things to you, and you’ll never be seen again.
While we’re giving out props, though, let’s also remember this film was one of Lili Taylor’s first big roles — it came out the year after “Mystic Pizza.” She might not be a household name for everyone, but it’s impossible to watch “Say Anything” and not simultaneously hate Joe while also understanding her hangups.
Well, this is awkward, I wanted to say that “Say Anything” was Skye’s big claim to fame and she dropped out of acting after that. Apparently, the film was her big claim to fame, but she didn’t drop out after that. She kept acting and faded into oblivion. Oh well, I didn’t really like her anyway.
Here’s the thing. Everyone adores Lloyd Dobler, right? But, Diane isn’t really a great catch. She has an awkwardly close relationship with her dad and only seems to like Lloyd because he gets her out of her comfort zone. She breaks up with him for her father and only gets back together with him when she realizes her father isn’t that awesome.
(FYI: I don’t think spoilers count after 30 years, but I digress.) I have friends that fawn all over this film, but it’s extremely dated. In today’s day and age, Lloyd wouldn’t be thought of as sweet, but more likely a stalker. And we wouldn’t view his relationship with Diane as a sweet tale of young love, but likely an unhealthy tale of toxicity.
At the Q&A after the film, a fan’s question asked Cusack if he believed Diane and Lloyd stayed together, but Cusack didn’t answer. Instead, he prefers the ambiguity of not knowing or thinking about what happens after the credits roll. However, he does hope they did stand the test of time.
A lot of the evening’s questions focused on Cusack’s musical interests and how those interests informed the choices he made as a producer in 1997’s “Grosse Point Blank” and 2000’s “High Fidelity.” As a result, I began to question where the line is between Cusack and the characters he portrays in his films. He goes off on tangents like Dobler. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of bands and songs and a level of obsession and snobbishness about both reminiscent of Rob Gordon in “High Fidelity.” He has a level of existential angst reminiscent of Martin Q. Blank in “Grosse Point Blank.”
Many of the commentator’s questions were about 2014’s “Love & Mercy,” in which he portrays Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. It’s the story of one man’s battle with a genius that threatened to consume him. It’s also the story of how Wilson created one of the greatest albums ever in music, “Pet Sounds.”
The album wasn’t received well at the time, but it was a creation the likes of which no one had ever heard before. The melodies weren’t simply made by “typical” instruments, but by animals, bicycle bells and a variety of other things you and I might simply perceive as noise.
But it wasn’t simply noise to Wilson, and the resulting album was spectacular, although its genius wouldn’t be recognized for years to come.
When asked Friday night what was the most difficult experience he ever had in acting, Cusack mentioned one from this film. He didn’t know how to get himself into the moment until the actual Wilson stopped by and visited him. As seen here, the actor, who isn’t classically trained like Laurence Oliver or method like Marlon Brando, has a drive and process, one that he adheres to and has been more successful than not for more than 30 years. It was eye-opening to hear how he pursues his own projects, regardless of commercial viability or popularity, and seeks to create them in a corporate system that considers profit — not artistic creativity, originality or spontaneity — to be the highest achievement. And, it was a little heartbreaking to hear how corporations, executives and stockholders are breaking down an optimistic man — someone like Dobler — and turning him into a cynic who thinks it’s a miracle that anything good comes out of Hollywood given the process: screenwriting, directing and editing/marketing the product to appeal to the masses, mostly resulting in the elimination of idiosyncrasies and unique moments that might challenge or confuse viewers.
All in all, it was a night that allowed me to revisit a bit of ’80s nostalgia through a new lens, one that connects the lessons of that era to our modern time. Plus, I was in the same room as John Cusack, which was pretty awesome. Overall, it was a great night of film, examination and great friends.