It was a strange reunion, at least aesthetically. After the 30th anniversary screening of Say Anything — during this 18th Tribeca Film Festival, there was Ione Skye and Cameron Crowe and James L. Brooks on stage – and hovering over them all was the floating head of John Cusack, Skyping in from Chicago.
The weirdest moments came when Cusack wasn’t talking, instead just his giant projected head listening and smiling and nodding, like he was lording over us all. By the end, I wish there were other situations we could have Cusack’s head monitoring the situation. Maybe even project his head up there during future congressional hearings, it couldn’t hurt.
To Cusack’s credit, he didn’t phone it in, even though he was literally phoning it in. He was surprisingly engaged (Cusack isn’t one to hide his lack of enthusiasm if he’s not interested) and seemed to really appreciate reminiscing about Say Anything. One interesting fact came when Crowe mentioned he thought Cusack’s character’s name would be pronounced Lloyd Dobe-ler. Like Doberman. (Crowe even referenced former St. Louis Cardinals football player Conrad Dobler as an example.) It was Cusack who, incorrectly, started referring to Lloyd with the pronunciation that we all know today. Cusack seemed a little mystified by this, saying he had never once heard it pronounced the other way.
The other interesting moment came when Crowe was talking about the casting of John Mahoney as Jim Court. Dick Van Dyke had expressed interest in the part, but eventually was deemed a little too old. (It was kind of a sad story. Crowe said that Van Dyke had been getting a lot of auditions at the time but not many parts because casing directors just “wanted to meet Dick VanDyke,” but not seriously consider him. Richard Dreyfuss had also been considered for Jim, but returned the script with a note that said, “Great script, I want to play Lloyd.”
But the real attraction was just watching Say Anything again, in a packed theater. Say Anything is a weird movie for me, so intertwined in my own high school experience (it was released when I was a freshman) I kind of avoid it today as to not be overwhelmed with those high school feelings today. (I’m one of those people who has never been to a high school reunion because it’s something I just don’t really want to re-live in any kind of way. Watching Say Anything again is as close as I’m going to come to that.)
And, boy, did those memories come back. That’s the lasting legacy of Say Anything, because it captures the high school experience from that era better than anything else. Look, the boom box scene gets all the attention (for some reason half the theater decided to take a picture of the screen during this scene; I’m not a huge fan of this new phenomenon), but this movie works because of the little things: like psyching yourself up before calling the girl you like, or the fact Lloyd is just “some dude” and not anywhere near the cool guy in school, but he’s not the dork either – he’s just there, like most of us were just there.
(I, like many boys my age, used Lloyd Dobler as some kind of dating template. I remember on some early dates I would actively steer unsuspecting dates towards “danger” in parking lots so I could kick it out of the way. But there was never broken glass, so instead I’d wind up kicking things like packs of Marlboro Lights out of the way, “Oh, watch out for that abandoned sock.” Anyway, needless to say, this was not something that ever worked or anyone found endearing.)
I had never seen Say Anything in a theater before. What I had considered a kind of serious movie (at least, from the perspective of someone in high school it certainly was, because this is life, man) plays much funnier in front of a crowd. In fact, it basically plays as a full-on comedy. One example was the scene with Ione Skye’s Diane is telling her father about her night with Lloyd, then at the big reveal that she “attacked him anyway.” The expression on John Mahoney’s face is comedy gold. There are a lot of scenes like this. (Look, I’m not a big “the sanctity of movie theaters” person, but the laughing aspect is probably going to be a problem. It’s nice to go out and laugh with people and that just doesn’t really happen as often watching a movie at home. Two of my favorite theater experiences were watching The Naked Gun and, later, There’s Something About Mary in theaters. Both times my chest hurt from laughing so hard. I doubt my chest would have hurt at home.)
It’s weird, Say Anything is now this beloved movie, but it’s still somehow underappreciated. Rewatching, yes, I got hit by a flood of memories from high school I wasn’t looking to re-experience, but, through all that, I was reminded just how good of a movie Say Anything really is. It really is the quintessential high school movie of that time, even though it doesn’t get mentioned as often as, say, the earlier era’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the next era’s Can’t Hardly Wait. Maybe because it’s a smaller movie, more focused on two characters as opposed to the world around them. But that’s also what makes it feel real, because that’s how we all were then, too.
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