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Say Anything (1989)

by on 2011/02/21

“You used to be fun.  You used to be warped and twisted and hilarious, and I mean that in the best way.  I mean it as a compliment.”

* * * *

Years ago, someone told me, “You know what’s great about you?  You’re decent.”

Decent.

I’m sure it was meant with the best of intentions but, for an instant, I wondered if I’d been faintly praised.  There’s a moment like that one in writer Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, Say Anything.  Diane Court (Ione Skye) tells Lloyd Dobler (High Fidelity’s John Cusack) he’s “basic”.

Basic Lloyd is leaving high school.  While his parents are on a military transfer in Europe, he lives with his older sister, Constance (Joan Cusack).  He’s got some talent in kickboxing, and not a lot else.  Why decide on a career if he doesn’t know what to do?  He’s a Graduate more comfortable in his own skin. For the time being, his chosen focus is Diane — “A brain, trapped in the body of a game show hostess” — an unattainable ideal, about to accept a fellowship in England.  With sixteen weeks before her departure, he spends his summer winning her affection.

At first, Lloyd succeeds in drawing her attention.  Although she finds him to be a strange, funny gentleman, she doesn’t want to get too close.  Her desire for being “friends with potential” feels like a kinder, gentler (500) Days of Summer situation.

The story is not theirs alone.  A triangle is formed with Diane’s father, Jim (Frasier’s John Mahoney).  While little more than a slow disapproval exists between him and Lloyd, he plays a significant role as his daughter’s pushiest fan.  The movie’s title is itself suggested by his assurance she can “say anything” to him.  But even as she takes him at his word, his own secrets threaten to tear their family apart.

Such dramatics . . . and yet my strongest reaction was not having much of a reaction at all.  Having seen it repeatedly since its original release, something about Say Anything obviously appeals to me.  On this occasion, however, it all felt like a series of familiar events, unfolding in familiar ways.  Maybe I’ve seen it too often; maybe my own issues of family and career have changed its appeal; maybe I’m just flagging with our month-long look at romance.

Crowe’s effort is not without its novelties.  I’m (still) impressed at the complexity of these characters, particularly John Mahoney’s.  Otherwise, I found myself longing for nuances which never emerged, depths to draw me in as other recently reviewed films have done, including those selections I’ve seen as many times.

I’ve raised the issue before:  how to judge something so familiar it has “worn out” its distinctions?  I do think it’s worth watching, even rewatching, though with considerably diminishing returns.  I’ll credit Say Anything with the benefit of my former enthusiasm but, for me, it’s since become merely, well, decent.

* * * *

Rated PG13 / 14A for adult situations and language

101 minutes

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