There’s an old saying that goes something like “All women marry men exactly like their fathers.”
Personally, I believe something that sounds similar but is in fact pretty different: that women, whether consciously or not, choose their partners based on their own experience with their fathers. And what I mean by that is that women’s relationships with men will always be coloured by their relationships with their fathers.
Even if they haven’t seen Say Anything, everyone knows about that one scene in the movie where John Cusack stands outside a girl’s window and holds a boom box over his head. It’s an iconic scene that’s set the standard for romantic gestures in modern relationships, even though nobody actually has a boom box anymore, and the more I say it, the stupider the word “boom box” sounds.
From that one scene, it’s easy to extrapolate what the rest of the movie is about: it’s a love story. But what a lot of people — including me, until recently — don’t know about this movie is more than just “boy meets girl.” It’s a love triangle between a girl, her dad, and her boyfriend, and it’s far less creepy than it sounds.
It’s graduation day, and super-smart valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) realizes that nobody knows who she is. She agrees to attend a post-grad kegger that evening with an unmotivated everyman named Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), who hasn’t yet decided what to do with the rest of his life. After realizing that she likes being known, particularly by Lloyd, the two of them begin a friendship that quickly becomes a whirlwind summer romance.
Throughout their time together, both Diane and Lloyd are aware that Diane will be soon be leaving to start a fall fellowship in London. Adding to their troubles, Diane’s father disapproves of their relationship, calling Lloyd a “distraction.” And as if that weren’t enough, her father is under investigation for skimming 17 years’ worth of funds from the old people at the nursing home he runs.
Torn between her loyalty to her father and her love for Lloyd, Diane breaks up with Lloyd knowing that their relationship will only end anyway. But then she discovers her father’s guilt, leaves home, and reunites with Lloyd while her father is incarcerated. Diane still loves her father, but stung by his dishonesty and betrayal, she puts him at arm’s length while she and Lloyd leave for London together.
Immediately after high school students graduate, there’s an immediate pressure from everyone they know: “What’s next for you? Where are you going to school? What are you studying? What do you want to be?” It’s almost unacceptable not to know what you’re doing with your life and what comes next after you get your diploma. I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be until the November after I graduated, so I got five months’ worth of incredulous looks whenever I said I was taking some time off to figure things out.
I had classmates who were getting calls from their parents in the middle of class, calls in which they found out they were accepted to university. I felt so lost whenever that happened, like there was this totally easy roadmap right in front of me that I was supposed to follow, but I was wandering along the highway in the wrong direction. And it bothered me, because why did I need to know right that moment what I wanted to do? And why on earth was it everyone else’s business?
I had a pretty similar mindset to Lloyd’s: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.” I wasn’t looking to be another cog in the machine. I was “looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.”
Some people, like Diane, know what they want to do from the time they’re in diapers. Others, like Lloyd, need a little extra time to figure out what they’re good at, what they can happily do for the rest of their lives. And it does take time. I went to school with people in their thirties and forties, people who’d done other things before realizing that they wanted to be writers. And that’s fine; in fact, I’m proud of them for being able to shift their lives in a new direction.
Lloyd figures it out once he starts loving Diane: that’s what he’s good at, and that’s what he wants to do for the rest of his life. I had friends and classmates who went into one program because they felt like they had to, only to realize partway through that they hated it and had just wasted the last year or two of their lives. Lloyd is lucky enough to realize his purpose right off the bat, even if it isn’t typical or widely approved, and he goes after it with everything he’s got.
Lloyd is an interesting character, and you should know that whenever I use the word “interesting,” I usually mean “there are good things and bad things, and I’m not sure which one outweighs the other just yet.” For one thing, he’s really into kickboxing. As of ’89, apparently it wasn’t a mainstream thing yet. I think kickboxing has mostly become a thing because it’s a killer workout and because it’s part of mixed martial arts, which now has a decent appeal.
But at the time, that must’ve been the equivalent of that weird kid down the street who plays Calvinball and actually takes it seriously, cultivates genetically engineered tomatoes in his basement, or likes to LARP as characters from obscure animes. So it says a lot about his character that he’s so comfortable being himself around people who are obviously judging him for his childlike enthusiasm (me included, unfortunately).
On the other hand, Lloyd also has a good grasp on the female psyche and why girls do the things they do. Right before he and Diane get back together, he asks, “Do you just need someone right now, or do you need me?” Emotional vulnerability is a huge reason for women doing the things they do, and Lloyd realizing that is probably part of the reason why he manages to land a hottie like Diane Court in the first place.
And the reason he knows what makes ladies tick is because his best friends are two (possibly three) women. He knows how to treat women and how not to treat them, which is why he’s enough of a gentleman to mail a letter to Diane after they sleep together, telling her that he loves her and respects her. Nowadays women are lucky to get a text message saying “that was fun.”
At one point he questions whether he should, in fact, be spending more time with dudes. But that immediately blows up in his face when he realizes it’s better to have loved and lost than to be sitting outside a convenience store on a Saturday night without a date. Apart from that one hiccup in judgment, Lloyd is secure enough in his masculinity that he doesn’t feel the need to compensate.
My only real problem with his character is something that’s mentioned off-handedly. When Diane is telling her father about her night with Lloyd, she says Lloyd was pushing in that direction, even though he didn’t force her. I know both guys and girls want that in equal measure, but they literally just kissed for the first time earlier that day, and it’s the first serious relationship for both of them. I think Lloyd might be letting his brain take a hiatus while he thinks with other parts of his anatomy, if you know what I mean. (Of course you do.)
Diane’s dad isn’t nearly so fleshed out, but he’s still a decent character with good motivations. There’s gotta be a reason why Diane picked him in the custody battle after her parents’ divorce, and I suspect it’s because of something I share with my own family, if to a lesser and not nearly so creepy extent: James Court has built a relationship with his daughter that thrives on honesty.
That’s where the title of the movie ties in: they can literally “say anything” to each other, knowing that even if the other person doesn’t understand, at least they’ll be able to talk about it. And that’s also where the central conflict of the story comes in.
Diane has the courage to tell her father when she sleeps with a boy, knowing full well that her dad isn’t gonna be thrilled that some guy in a trench coat is sticking it to his little girl, but she does it anyway because she values the open communication their relationship is based on. But while James is talking a big game about honesty, he’s busy hiding a secret from Diane that stretches back for nearly her entire life. And that’s why it’s so devastating for her when the truth comes out.
There were points during the movie where I was actually concerned about James’s level of attachment to his daughter. I get that Diane lives a secluded life while she’s preparing for her future, but her dad doesn’t have a life outside of her, either. It’s just the two of them, living in that house together and not interacting with the outside world apart from the time they spend at the nursing home. I’m not suggesting there’s anything scarily inappropriate going on, but there were times when I was actually afraid the story was going to move in that direction.
Relationships between girls and their dads are complicated, and that’s putting it mildly — even more so than with mothers. Moms are usually a girl’s best friend or her warden, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. A girl’s dad is her first love and her first glimpse into what the opposite sex is like.
A father is supposed to show his daughter that a real man looks like. If it’s done properly, the girl idolizes her father and sees him as perfect. If it’s botched, a girl might form a negative view of men. Either way, eventually the illusion is shattered, because the man is only human and bound to make mistakes at some point. And when that happens, the trust is broken. That man isn’t the girl’s daddy anymore: he’s just a guy who screwed up and let her down.
Along those lines, there’s a really interesting (and I mean this in the good way) subplot with Lloyd’s sister Constance, which is hinted at but not actually explored at all. It’s a subtle reinforcement to the main story with Lloyd and Diane, and that’s the fact that Constance is a single mom. Her and Lloyd’s father is in the army, doing who knows what who knows where, and has probably been doing it for a while since Lloyd is living with her and not with them.
At one point Lloyd mentions the fact that a guy named Tim left her, and I think the phrase “with a child” was implied there. Remember what I said earlier about girls choosing men like their fathers? Sounds to me like she chose a guy who preferred to be absent, whether consciously or not.
Diane is faced with the same choice. In her case, she’s likely to choose a guy who’s so overprotective and fixated on her happiness that he’ll resort to lying and stealing. But that’s the weird thing, because I don’t think Lloyd is like that at all.
I think Diane finds in Lloyd the man her father should’ve been. Yes, he’s protective to a certain extent; when they go to the party together, he checks in throughout the evening to make sure she’s okay. But he does unintrusively from a distance, which is underscored by the fact that Diane has to call her father in the middle of the party to let him know she’s all right.
And yes, Lloyd is fixated on her happiness, as any good boyfriend should be (within reason, obviously). But he isn’t obsessive or insecure about it. Instead he maintains a happy medium and does little things like teaching her how to drive stick (when, oddly enough, her father hasn’t volunteered for the task). And when he decides to make Diane his future, he isn’t giving up his own dreams or aspirations in the process. It’s more a matter of finding what he’s good at and going after it.
Overall, I think Say Anything is written around a particular idea that Diane articulates: “I have this theory of convergence, that good things always happen with bad things. I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I just don’t know why they have to happen at the same time. I just wish I could work out some schedule.”
It’s about two young people trying to navigate the first serious relationship of their lives while simultaneously balancing family and the future. And right after I finished writing that sentence, I realized why I connected with this movie so much. Without giving you too deep an insight into my personal life, I just graduated from university, and I’m desperately trying to figure out what comes next for life, family, and the future.
As Diane so keenly noted in her valedictorian address, the future is scary. It’s natural to be scared of the unknown, whether it’s living in a foreign country or starting a new job or even just flying on a plane. But if you have someone at your side, someone with whom you can share all your fears and just “say anything,” you have a shot at making it through those few minutes before the seatbelt sign switches off. And when the two of you do finally hear that sign go ding, you know everything — no matter how unknown it might be — is going to be all right.
Final Grade: A-
- What was with the food court thing at the beginning? Were they on a date or did Lloyd just sit down across from her and strike up a conversation?
- Why did Diane initially look disgusted when she was going through her yearbook and found Lloyd? John Cusack smouldered in the ’80s!
- Lloyd’s friend Corey is annoying. We get it, your ex was a douche and you wrote over 60 songs about him. It would probably be easier to get over him if you stopped talking about how much you’re over him. Also, don’t play your guitar at parties. Nobody likes that guy (or girl, in this case).
- You guys, Jeremy Piven is in this! That’s like my favourite game to play when I watch movies: Spot the Jeremy Piven.
- Before I saw the movie, I thought the stereo scene was where John Cusack got the girl. It’s actually a little depressing that this big sweeping romantic gesture, iconic and immortal in film, didn’t actually work.
- John and Joan Cusack keep being in the same movies, usually when John is starring. I like to imagine he’s doing a scene and the director’s like, “John, I think your character probably has a sister,” and John texts Joan and is like, “What are you doing right now? Come help me with a thing,” and even though Joan’s got her own stuff going on, she shows up for the afternoon to help her little brother with his little movie project because she’s a good sister like that. That is all.