Say Anything (1989), review

Today, audiences are inundated with an array of romantic dramas, romantic comedies, action romances…the list goes on. Tales of soppy love and unrealistic depictions of said love have proved their worth amongst cinema-goers. While there are a bunch of these genre films each year, the production values, casting, and overall pizzazz (yes, pizzazz), of these movies has somewhat taken a dive over the past ten years. Romantic dramas were at their peak during the 1980’s, with Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and – the focus of this review – Say Anything. These forays into teenage romance were simple, yet effective, stories of people of opposites coming together, and overcoming pitfalls. Coming of age narratives, in a sense. Cameron Crowe’s 1989 directorial debut might not be on the level of his later efforts, such as the classic Almost Famous, but Say Anything shines with the filmmakers wit and charm, and showcases his ability to take a straightforward story and tell it so candidly, so warmly, that it unravels into a feature that leaves its audience pleasantly surprised. Putting it simply – it’s actually a really, really good romance film that isn’t just for a bunch of people who enjoy this genre.

John Hughes was a big helmer of the influx of these movies in the 1980’s, with the popularity of teen romance taking over cinema in the latter half of the decade. Crowe clearly cottoned on to the praise of Hughes work, but set out to add his original spin to the well-known formula. Said formula is generally boy likes girl, gets girl, break-up incurs, romantic gesture and reunion ensues. This is basically a spin on Todorov’s narrative theory, and is seen in the majority of films perhaps just in a different instance. Ensuring that Say Anything stand out from the crowd, Crowe turned this structure on its head by deleting the unrealistic romantic gesture (think crazy rain sex scene from The Notebook) and replaced it with authentic drama and dialogue. The director simply ensured that his audience could (and still can) relate. And that, we surely do – relationship woes definitely haven’t changed 26 years later, that much is true.

From father-daughter connections to bonds of friendship and themes of fitting in and the pressures of society on young adults, Crowe helmed this project from page to screen and produced a film that set the tone for the rest of his career. Character-driven stories are the mans fortay, and Say Anything is a pretty decent example of that. While devotees of the director might shun this first feature, it shouldn’t be shoved into the derogatory box of “Just for fans of the genre.”, because it genuinely stands as a movie that could woo the strongest of naysayers. Even the Ghettoblaster scene is a winner, and who would of expected that following The Big Bang Theory‘s reference?

Half of the brilliance of Crowe’s debut is in the cast. John and Joan Cusack, Lili Taylor, Jeremy Piven (only in a brief performance here), Frasier‘s John Mahoney and the wonderfully natural Ione Skye propel the films premise into great depths. This isn’t multi-layered, textured filmmaking, but it is an engaging and relatable story of young love that we have all experienced (perhaps just not in such a theatrical context). If you enjoy nostalgia and a bit of 80’s cinema, and already find yourself a spectator of such fare as The Breakfast Club, and the aforementioned Pretty in Pink, seek out Say Anything. In fact, if you were to see any film of this genre, from that quirky decade full of perms and Madonna fashion, see Crowe’s take on it. You won’t be disappointed, that’s a stellar promise.