I cannot count the amount of fights I heard about Say Anthing… (1989) during my first semester at college. In my life I have a very vehement fan of the film, as well as a person who thinks it is a problemaode to negative relationships. I knew a lot about this movie going into it. I knew about kickboxing and I knew how the movie ended, I knew about the scene in the car (for those of you who maybe haven’t seen this movie I’ll try not to give too much away). What I didn’t know what the connective tissue, and where I would come down on this iconic film.
So, I watched it recently, and I’ve been thinking about exactly what makes Say Anything… so classic, and apparently divisive, today. The film has many obvious strengths. Lloyd, played by John Cussack, is one of the best high school movie boyfriends I’ve ever seen. He is genuinely kind to Diane, played by Ione Skye, a sheltered and intelligent girl who graduated at the top of her class. Lloyd himself comes from the other side of the tracks- he doesn’t have a lot of money, his friends are all girls and all punks, he was something of a slacker in high school. But he really likes Diane, he really cares about her and respects her, and he treats her very well.
The film also sheds some light on the lack of self-awareness that many young people have when they’re in their relationships. Lloyd’s best friend Cory, played delightfully by Lily Tyler, has written dozens of songs about a boy who she has recently broken up with, who was cheating on her for the entirety of their relationship. And Lloyd and Diane are no different. They take their relationship very seriously, and say things to one another that only those with the least possible emotional armor can say. Diane and her father have these types of conversations as well, showing us that some of the adults in this world also never developed that sense of self-awareness.
Diane’s father presents a lot of the things that I found problematic with the film, and since I have a lot of faith in director Cameron Crowe, I do think that these problems are intentionally included in the film- they are what makes the movie a classic instead of another forgotten romantic comedy of the 80’s and 90’s. The core problem of the film is that the two men in Diane’s life- her father and her boyfriend- think that there can only be one man in her life. When Diane wants to do something Lloyd doesn’t (or not do something Lloyd does), he always asks, “Did your dad tell you that?” When Diane says that she is going out with Lloyd or doing something with him, her father brushes him off and tries to talk about all the plans that he and his daughter have made. They put Diane in a position where she thinks that the two people are mutually exclusive. She has to choose one of them, and once she does, she has to lose the other forever.
Naturally, this makes no sense to her. She operates with complete honesty when dealing with the both of them, and is confused when they react negatively to her honesty. Her naivety makes her a great girlfriend and a great daughter, but opens up the opportunity for her to be taken advantage of by her father and boyfriend- which is ultimately what happens to her, over and over again.
I do think that this film works- I think that Lloyd and Diane have a very flawed relationship, but that the film is respectful of this. And while the end of the film initially may suggest that the world is sunshine and roses at the end, I think going back and thinking more about the “ding” will give it more meaning than on first viewing.