It is a rather sad fact of life that all things, whether good or bad, must inevitably come to an end. It is an even sadder fact that it is often the most promising, the most influential, or the most creative periods of history that are tainted by the crippling hands of fate. Enter the divisive decade of the 1980s, for some it is the log that effectively de-railed the cultural progression that had been steadily building through the Sixties and Seventies, while others see it as the decade in which the mass consumerism that had remained hidden during these decades was finally released in a cultural explosion that would have had Sigmund Freud running for his typewriter. I am firmly in the second camp, the 1980s were a decade in which the brilliant was forced to contend with the mediocre: ask any Genesis fan what the best album of 1986 was and they will no-doubt answer that Gabriel’s SO is a brilliant album (which it is), while Invisible Touch is the worst album ever recorded (It is in fact a terrific pop album). This cultural divide could never exist in a decade in which everything was terrible, and the best example of this is (In my opinion), that average films like The Breakfast Club are regarded as a classic while the vastly superior Say Anything is forgotten.
Say Anything is the debut feature by director Cameron Crowe, a filmmaker who is representative of the brilliant clashing with the mediocre, and the film works best because it understands that there is no such thing as a simple love story. John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler. Dobler is the classic everyman, he has no knowledge of what to do with his life, nor is not extravagantly good-looking or athletic, but is a simple soul who refuses to allow the invisible pressures of life to ever beat him. He is warned early in the film that his desire to win the heart of valedictorian Diane Court is doomed to result in him being hurt, Lloyd is unaffected by this warning as he instead proclaims that “I want to get hurt”. The object of Lloyd’s desire is top student Diane Court, played in a lovely performance by Ione Skye, an over-achieving student who is not portrayed as the obsessive, emotionally hollow nerd of other films, but is another brilliant depiction of teenage anxiety by Crowe. Diane is clever and focused, but she is also frustrated by her inability to connect with the people around her. At one moment she confides in Lloyd the dynamic that she has created between herself and her fellow graduates, “I just held them so far away from me, and they did the same to me”.
The couple inevitably fall in love, but Crowe is careful not to present the romance as the typical impossible heights of the star-crossed lovers because he understands that audiences will relate to the story of two people finding the connection that leads to love much more easily than the mawkish, melodramatic depiction of romance that has dominated the world of teenage fiction. The first kiss between the two, for example, does not take place among the crashing waves of a secluded beach, nor are we treated to the overbearing sounds of violins accompanying the moment. Instead it is a spontaneous action that takes place inside Lloyd’s car.
There are, of course, obstacles in the way of the romance between Lloyd and Diane. Diane has won a scholarship to England, while the laissez-faire attitude that Lloyd adopts in relation to his future is a source of tension between him and the career-focused views of Diane’s father (played by John Mahoney). These are not the melodramatic occurances of a killer disease, or the classic misunderstanding that seperates the lovers until the climax, but are simply the natural obstacles that all real couples must face. Cameron Crowe does allow a few moments of melodrama to sneak into the script, including the iconic scene of John Cusack serenading Ione Skye through the use of a jukebox playing Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes, but I have to let that one slide because of how much I love that song.
Say Anything is not the most iconic, or even the most fondly remembered of the teenage romances of the 1980s, but it may just be the best of them. The lead performances by Cusack and Skye are terrific, as is the direction of Crowe in choosing to focus on a heartwarming tale of a love that may not conquer all, the ending is rather ambigious on the happy-ever after, but is one that we all hope will stand up to the ravages of time. Is it sometimes cheesy? Yeah, but it is unashamed in declaring that sometimes a small amount of sentiment is all you need. Oh, and if you have not heard it yet go out and buy Peter Gabriel’s SO. You can thank me when the album finishes.