Romantic comedy is a hard line to toe. If it is too funny, it becomes just a comedy. If it is too serious then what makes that any different than a standard drama with a strong romance plot? How do you achieve that happy medium that appeals to both male and female audiences? I have two words (and an ellipsis) for you, Say Anything… (1989).
This movie is one of my favorite examples of the genre. I appear not be alone in this ideology since others seem to agree. Even Entertainment Weekly listed it as the greatest modern movie romance! That’s right, better than Edward and Bella, more romantic than Pretty in Pink (1986) and greater than that time (get ready for another ellipsis title) When Harry Met Sally… (1989). So why does Say Anything… garner such high praise?
Two more words (with no ellipsis), Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack). Undoubtedly, Ione Skye as Diane Court adds to the charm and you can’t have a romance without a relationship, but Lloyd Dobler is the stuff of legend. His witty dialog and charming persona wins over the audience while he is winning over Diane Court (Skye). When his heart breaks, yours breaks in turn. Dobler is the type of guy that I always wanted to be in my high school career and early twenties. I dreamed of being that dude outside the window holding the boombox (not in a creepy stalker way, but a cool Lloyd Dobler way), you know the scene.
I think that is the allure of the movie for me; I could see myself in Dobler’s shoes. Often the romantic leads in the 80’s either fit the quirky hero type, such as Matthew Broderick in Ferris Buellers Day Off (1986) or the outcast such as Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club (1985), but Say Anything… is different. Dobler is just a normal guy that has a shot with the prettiest and smartest girl in town. Plus he is a kick-boxer… how cool is that!
At its core, it is the most realistic depiction of teen romance that came out during the 80’s. There are just so many real life situations and scenarios that present themselves during the course of the movie. From little things like the designated driver bucket, to huge things like legal trouble that pursues Diane’s dad. Cameron Crowe presents a funny, dramatic yet romantic view of life after graduation for two wanderers in this thing called life. Plus it was Crowe’s first feature film. This is the same guy who wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and would go on to direct Jerry Maguire (1996). I have to admit he started pretty strong out of the gate.
Life is a series of incidents that either draw us together or pull us apart. The challenge is finding the right person to traverse these incidents with and hope that they want to traverse them with you. The conflict that Say Anything… provides is what do we do when things are destined and aligned to pull us asunder? What if an overprotective dad doesn’t approve of your lack of motivation? Or if the person you love is scheduled to move leagues away? The answer is simple and a personal belief of mine, you fight. Love is always worth fighting for when it is reciprocal! Even when she breaks up with you and you get a pen in return.
Of course we cannot talk about Say Anything... without talking about the soundtrack. Ranging from The Replacements to Fishbone to Steely Dan and Aerosmith, Crowe is a master at matching his story to the music. There is even a track by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the film which is interesting since Anthony Kiedis was dating Ione Skye at the time, and, from most reports was a real jerk to John Cusack. I guess he was jealous of Lloyd Dobler as well… how meta!
In my opinion, it is the soundtrack that elevates Say Anything… into the stratosphere. As previously mentioned, Dobler with the boom box outside Diane Court’s window playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel is perhaps the most romantic scene in cinema for me. So much so that, that for my wife and me, In Your Eyes became our “song.” We played it at our wedding and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. At that moment I was Lloyd Dobler, and she will always be my Diane Court (so much smarter than me on every level). I can’t help but think of her every time I hear that song on the radio and remember that every great love is worth standing outside someone’s house as the sun rises, blaring Peter Gabriel (so long as no one is arrested). Do yourself a favor and turn your sound all the way up and listen to the brilliance that is this song.
That is how a romantic comedy should be done.