We all know this already, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that votes for the Oscars, has a tendency to screw up and make horrible decisions. They may not be as bad as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the body that decides the Grammy awards (Lionel Richie over “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Purple Rain?” Seriously?), but they have their fair share of blunders.
1989 is a particularly glaring example. The Best Picture lineup was lackluster. It comprised of “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Field of Dreams” and “My Left Foot.” There’s not a necessarily bad film in the bunch, except for the eventual winner “Driving Miss Daisy.” Yet there were several much superior films from that year that should have found themselves in the hunt for the Best Picture prize, like, say, Kenneth Branagh’s powerful interpretation of “Henry V.” Or Woody Allen’s morality play masterpiece “Crime and Misdemeanors.” The most egregious snub of the year was inarguably the passing over of Spike Lee’s incendiary “Do the Right Thing,” a controversial snub even to this day.
Along with these films, there was another sensational film that got overlooked. In this case of this one, it’s not surprising, as the Oscars have never gone for high school romantic comedies. But in a decade filled with classics of that genre, most of them directed by John Hughes, the best of the best was 1989’s “Say Anything…”
“Say Anything…” marked the directorial debut of Cameron Crowe, a former contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. Seven years earlier, he wrote his first screenplay, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” a film that became a classic of its generation in its own right. After seeing that film, famed Hollywood producer James L. Brooks recruited Crowe to write a screenplay about the relationship between a father and his precocious teenage daughter after he gets in trouble with the law. Crowe took the idea and ran with it in a different direction. Natural romantic that he is, the screenwriter added a love story to the tale. The father in trouble plot remained integral to the story, sure, but it was a romantic comedy Crowe was crafting now.
And as far as romantic comedies go, “Say Anything…” is unquestionably one of the finest. Crowe’s story, about a high school underachiever by the name of Lloyd Dobler that pursues the valedictorian of his recent graduation, Diane Court, is a real swoon-worthy and charming effort. Although he was trained as a journalist, it was clear even from this one film that Crowe had a true cinematic personality. He has a tender edge and a sharp sense of humor that he imbues into every frame. Whereas most directors require grandiose circumstances and the bombastic use of strings to conjure romance, Crowe can create romance and heartbreak with the use of prop pen, as he does here. In “Say Anything….,” he benefits from his casting of the leads. John Cusack and Ione Skye, both of whom were relatively unknown at the time, have chemistry so palpable that chemistry textbooks at colleges across America quickly became obsolete.
Forgetting the fact that I said Crowe does not need to utilize string instruments in forte in order to add romance to a scene, Crowe makes use of pop music in film better than anyone outside of Scorsese and Tarantino. There’s no more famous example of Crowe’s talent than the boombox scene from this film.
After Diane dumps him for vague reasons, Lloyd quickly becomes despondent. She won’t return his calls, or have any contact with him. Out of options, Lloyd pulls up to her house at an ungodly hour of the morning, hoists his boombox proudly in the air as the sounds of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” float through her open window. Now, if this happened in real life, it would most certainly be viewed as creepy, and Diane would be entirely justified in seeking a restraining order. But the cinema is an alternative to real life, and Crowe creates a moment that’s simple, yet powerful and whimsical, and it immortalized Gabriel’s already pretty fantastic tune. The moment has been oft parodied in other films, shows and commercials. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film, the Lloyd Dobler Mobler (no, seriously) marched the streets of five different cities, adorned in long brown coats and boomboxes elevated in the air.
Apart from that scene, “Say Anything…” has had a sizable impact. The Lloyd Dobler Mobler was not a one time consortium of fanatics. Cusack’s character inspired many hopeless romantic gen-X men. Dobler was a poster boy; a young, idyllic who didn’t want to sell, buy or process anything for a career, but wanted adventure, inspiration, and most of all Diane. Countless screenwriters have since designed their own Lloyd Dobler’s to fit within the confines of new stories, but there will never be another quite like the original.
I don’t know if the Cameron Crowe that worked in the office of Rolling Stone ever envisioned that he would make movies, but that’s where his life has taken him. After “Say Anything…” he went on to make other modern classics such as “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire.” As great as those films are, nothing will ever top his resume like his first, a film about firsts: The first love, the first steps into adulthood. “Say Anything…” remains not only one of the best films of 1989, but indeed one of the greatest films ever made.