Seldom Scene
Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

Say Anything (1989)

Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (1989) might be rated as unfit for parental viewing. After all, parents are probably paranoid enough as it is. They don’t need to watch movies about one of their most secret fears coming true. It’s the nightmare that begins with the question: “My daughter is dating HIM…!?!” and ends with a resigned something like: “Well, at least he’s not in jail….”. Sort of the teen-aged version of “Hey, mom, dad, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!” Being a parent is hard enough without watching movies that remind you your children’s lives are ultimately their own.

No one’s ever given this particular genre of movies a name (“They-Grew-Up-and-Terrified-Adults”? “Inconvenient Hormones”? “Nightmares on Adolescent Street”?), but the first of its kind was probably The Wild One (1953). Daughter of respectable small-town store owner falls for a young, leather-jacketed, monosyllabic Marlon Brando-With-An-Attitude. Parents the world over cringed at those famous two lines: “Nice Girl’s Dad: What are you rebelling against? Not-Nice Marlon: Waddaya got?” The best recent example of the genre (a warped travelling companion to Say Anything), was the always-outrageous John Waters’ Cry-Baby—a Fifties spoof with Johnny Depp as the guy you’d rather not see hanging around the soda fountain. Come to think of it, the whole thing was probably Elvis’s fault. Who ever heard of a Western with a hormonally active teenager? (“Sorry, Pa, I cain’t milk them cows tonight….Bart’s pickin’ me up at sundown and we’re takin’ his bronco out on the range….”).

I can’t resist quoting from Roger Ebert’s review of Cry-Baby in his superb Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion—1993 Version [the art of movie reviewing just doesn’t come any better than this man’s work, folks; I’ve said it before, I’m saying it again]:

“The movie tells the story of Cry-Baby…a juvenile delinquent who forever has a tear sliding halfway down his cheek, a reminder of a grief he will live with forever, a teenage tragedy that left its mark on his soul, a lost romance. Into his life comes Allison, the good girl who has a crush on Cry-Baby and feels strange stirrings in her loins from the promise that he is as bad as they say. The movie’s bad guy is the good guy, Baldwin, who loves Allison in the right way, which is to say he loves her so boringly he might as well not love her at all.”

When, in Say Anything, Diane’s father (John Mahoney) asks her what she could possibly see in her new boyfriend Lloyd (John Cusack), she simply replies: “He made me laugh.” Is there ever really a better reason for loving anyone? Diane’s best friends search desperately for convoluted reasons to explain a relationship they understand as little as her father does, until someone finally says: “I know this is a strange thing to say…but maybe she honestly likes Lloyd.”

Lloyd is no juvenile delinquent, but he certainly isn’t a shining star of the free enterprise system. He’s unlikely to make a million selling junk bonds on the stock market. The best word for him is Diane’s: “basic.” Asked to the inevitable family dinner, he responds to the equally inevitable question about his future plans with: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career….I can’t figure it all out tonight, sir. I’m just going to hang with your daughter.” Dad is impressed. NOT. Asked about a summer job, Lloyd’s answer is: “Being a great date.” He sums himself up in his rebuttal to his older sister’s insistence that he Grow Up: “You used to be fun. You used to be warped & twisted & hilarious— and I mean that in the best way.”

With a distant father in the U.S. Army in Germany, Lloyd’s only passion before going out with Diane is kick-boxing at a local gym and kidding around with his sister’s young son. There aren’t a lot of strong traditional family ties here. The sister is a harried single mother, and Diane’s parents are divorced after a messy custody battle.

Diane herself is perfect. Unfortunately. “A Brain trapped in the body of a game-show hostess,” as a schoolmate describes her. Beautiful and smart, she’s sacrificed a social life to maintain a stratospheric level of academics her father sees as the summum bonum. At graduation, even her high school principal refers to her more as an institution than as a human being. Guys steer clear because “brains hang out with brains”… and she’s always working…and she scares them. Lloyd’s just curious. When his incredulous friends (interestingly enough, they’re girls not guys) ask him how he managed to get Diane out on a date, he says: “I called her up.” Basic.

There are a lot of scenes in Say Anything that work: Lloyd’s first appearance on Diane’s father’s doorstep; his reaction after they’ve spent the night together; Diane’s conversation with her father the morning after. I wasn’t so keen on a sub-plot involving the father and the IRS—I’d rather have just seen more of Diane & Lloyd together. Hollywood has a hard time letting go of the idea that Something Always Has to Happen. All in all, though, an auspicious debut for Cameron Crowe as a director.

I’d recommend a double bill with an older, little-known gem called The Competition (1980). Starring a young Richard Dreyfuss in peak form and an equally young Amy Irving, The Competition is a great love story about a brash wonderland pianist (Dreyfuss) who finally meets his match in a serious young lady who outplays him even though she doesn’t act like a temperamental genius à la Mozart.

You know, with all this talk about intelligent young women in movies, someone should write a book. Up till now, the “Bad Girls” have had all the attention. Isn’t it time someone stuck a copy of Smart Girls in the Movies on your local bookstore shelf? Can you think of some choice entries?

By the way, if you’re a parent of a teenage girl, you might not want to answer that doorbell….

Movie Information

Genre: Teen Romance
Director: Cameron Crowe
Actors: Ione Skye, John Cusack, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack
Year: 1989
Original Review: October 1994


The Illusion of Life: 12 Basic Principles of Disney Animation

Based on the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. There are many versions of these 12 principles on the web. Here is creator Cento Lodigiani’s capsule description for his short video: “The 12 basic principles of animation were developed by the ‘old men’ of Walt Disney Studios, amongst them Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, during the 1930s. Of course they weren’t old men at the time, but young men who were at the forefront of exciting discoveries that were contributing to the development of a new art form. These principles came as a result of reflection about their practice and through Disney’s desire to use animation to express character and personality.
This movie is my personal take on those principles, applied to simple shapes. Like a cube.”

Alan Becker has put together an excellent, much more detailed, 24-minute tutorial on the 12 principles. You’ll find it here:

Johnny Express

A memorable five-minute animated film from South Korea that combines sci-fi with black humor. Creator Kyungmin Woo’s gem is not from the happy-happy school of animation. More Harlan Ellison than Walt Disney.

Films Worth Talking About:

Dreams, Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, The Two Jakes, Little Vera, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Noce blanche, Valmont, The War of the Roses, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Music Box, Field of Dreams, Mapantsula, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, [sex, lies, and videotape], Trop belle pour toi (Too Beautiful for You), Dead Poets’ Society, When Harry Met Sally, Casualties of War, Sea of Love, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Born on the Fourth of July, Henry V, Batman, Drugstore Cowboy, Roger and Me, A City of Sadness, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, New York Stories, [The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover], Sweetie, The Abyss, Look Who’s Talking, Santa Sangre, Scandal

The Bigger Picture

Films: Manhattan (1979), My So-Called Life (TV series, 1994-95), Almost Famous (2000)


Books: Cameron Crowe, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The Word on the Street

“Lloyd Dobler isn’t just a shiftless man with no future. He’s an eternal optimist who lives in the present and recognizes, admires, and compliments the qualities in Diane that go beyond her amazing intellect. She becomes his dare-to-be-great situation and his absolute love and devotion to her is anything but unmanly. The force of it is palatable and immensely erotic without being reduced to cheap teenage lust.”


“The magic, the heart of Say Anything, is that it dares to be normal. You remember the 80 teen romantic comedy genre. It was a nice idea that became an epidemic, but once and awhile there was a gem like Some Kind of Wonderful. But here is the major difference, the lack of cliche, the lack of formula, the lack of cute dialogue, and saying things without any words. Instead it is said with a look, a touch, a smile, and a tear falling down a face. It allows these talented young actors to _act_!”


“…there are other moments when Cusack suddenly becomes the ultimate hero, even more involving than Rocky Balboa or Luke Skywalker at times; through the climax of the film it seems impossible not to root for Cusack, particularly the iconic scene forever cemented in teen movie history in which Lloyd stands outside of Diane’s house next to his car, holding a boom box over his head and blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” with a look of desperate heartache and lost pride on his face. An iconic date movie.”