Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) may not have big plans in the eyes of others, but he does have one ambition and that is to ask out Diane Court (Ione Skye), a girl his friend Corey (Lili Taylor) describes as a brain in the body of a game show hostess. Nobody has really got to know Diane over the past few years of school as she was always wrapped up in her studies, but Lloyd has admired her from afar for quite a while, and his fondest memory is of spending lunch as the mall with her recently - not that she actually noticed him much. Today is graduation day, and Diane gives her speech where she admits that she is scared about moving on, but will Lloyd have any part in her life?
The teen comedy is a much maligned genre, and it takes a particular talent to get the formula right so that it is regarded as something a little bit special, a break from the routine, seemingly never ending morass of smartassed and dubious adventures that the characters get embroiled in. So it was with Say Anything... which marked Cameron Crowe's debut as director, having written one of the better teen comedy-dramas of the eighties, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and showing he had a real knack of divining true emotion from a simple romance that could easily have been pat and saccharine - or even crass and condescending.
Crowe's secret weapon here was a terrific performance from John Cusack, apparently not doing much more than he had with his previous teen outings during this decade, but bringing true depth to his director's script as an underachieving nice guy who cannot work out precisely what it is he wants to do with his life until he sees Diane and realises they could be good together. She, on the other hand, barely knew he existed until he phones her up and invites her to a party to celebrate the graduation, and manages to awkwardly charm her into agreeing to spend some time with him. As it turns out, Diane gets swept up in the fun-loving atmosphere and actually enjoys herself, but doesn't quite connect with Lloyd.
She does note that he is looking out for her as she was nervous about going, and on the journey home they get to know each other better and Diane decides she really rather likes this idiosyncratic chap's attention. She gives him a little hug and rushes inside to tell her father all about what happened, which is where she starts to sow the seeds of her own downfall. Dad is played expertly by John Mahoney and is the villain of the piece, although Crowe is far too soft-hearted to allow anybody in this to be truly evil, it's just that now Diane has a place at an English university and has that bright future ahead of her that he has always wanted, he is not about to allow her to go out with a no-hoper like Lloyd.
Whenever anyone asks Lloyd what he is going to do, he mumbles something about pursuing his kickboxing career, and that's a large part of the message of the film, that it's OK not to have this grand scheme for your life mapped out as Diane has. Lloyd pretty much goes where the day takes him, and doesn't look for purpose until he cottons on that perhaps the meaning of his existence is simply to be in love with Diane. Her father cannot see that there's any worth in that at all, but he has been harbouring a secret that threatens to ruin her life, not that he intends to, he has simply got in way over his head. It is up to Diane to compromise between strong family ties which let her down and a boy who wouldn't dream of disappointing her, if only she understood that. But don't go thinking Say Anything... is all too serious, as there is a touching contrast with nicely-observed character moments that raise a laugh or two. If it was smaller scale than it seemed back in 1989, then it was sweet enough nevertheless to deserve the warm reception it enjoyed, and still does.
American writer/director of mainstream comedy/drama. Crowe made his name as Rolling Stone magazine's youngest reporter during the 1970s, and scripted the energetic high school romp Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Made his directing debut in 1989 with the romantic comedy Say Anything..., followed by the grunge relationship movie Singles and the Tom Cruise-starrer Jerry Maguire. Almost Famous was Crowe's semi-autobiographical rock n' roll road movie, while Vanilla Sky, his remake of the Spanish Open Your Eyes, was an unusually arty Hollywood thriller. Crowe then went on to the disastrous, quirk-filled romance Elizabethtown, but his fans have faith in his recovery.