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Say Anything...

Fox // PG-13 // November 3, 2009
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Cameron Crowe was just sixteen when he scored his first cover story for Rolling Stone, spending weeks on the road during his teenage years with everyone from The Allman Brothers to Led Zeppelin. He was only 25 when his first screenplay -- Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- became an enormous hit, not to mention one of the most endlessly rewound-and-replayed tapes in the early days of VHS. Throughout his life, Crowe would not only accomplish the sorts of things that most professionals could only dream of, but he'd routinely do it at an astonishingly young age. Given that, it's almost expected that Crowe's first film as a director -- 1989's Say Anything... -- is perfect. If it's not the single best teen romance ever filmed, Say Anything... isn't lagging far behind. Endlessly quotable lines like "I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen" and the iconic image of Lloyd Dobler defiantly holding a boombox over his head continue to endure two full decades later. Even with as many teen romances as have come and gone over the years, none have matched the warmth, intelligence, and absolute sincerity of Say Anything... These aren't just characters; they're people. Even the best of them can be obstinate and pig-headed. The greatest of intentions can send someone down the wrong path entirely. I love them not just because of their warmth or their charm but because of the mistakes they make. I love Say Anything... because it feels so real, and even though twenty years have passed since the movie first made its bow in theaters, it doesn't feel as if it's aged at all.

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) has just had his high school diploma forked over to him, but he hasn't exactly figured out where to go from here. His father wants him to sign up with the Army, but...nah, Lloyd isn't interested in being a part of that corporation. He doesn't want to sell anything...or buy anything, or process it either. Oh, and he doesn't want to process anything bought or sold, sell anything processed, bought or sold, buy anything sold or processed... There's kickboxing, sure, what with it being the sport of the future and all, even if Lloyd doesn't have a professional fight under his belt quite yet. Lloyd's only really great at one thing, though, and that's being Diane Court's (Ione Skye) boyfriend.

Everyone in high school knew of
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Diane Court, but no one had actually known her. As one of Lloyd's pals puts it, she's a brain with the body of a game show hostess, and she doesn't even know just how beautiful she is. If guys weren't intimidated by her intelligence, they were intimidated by her looks. With almost every spare second devoured by taking early college courses, Diane had made it through high school with only a single friend to her name, and that'd be her doting father (John Mahoney). All that incredibly hard work has paid off for her, though, with an incredibly prestigious fellowship and a valedictorian sash under Diane's belt. Well, that and the undivided attention of Lloyd, a kinda offbeat but unerringly good guy who finally works up the nerve to give her a call. Turns out all he had to do was ask. They hit it off immediately; Diane is quickly won over by Lloyd's offbeat charm and understated gallantry, and...well, Diane's everything Lloyd had hoped she'd be. She only has a few months left before she heads off to England for school, though, and Lloyd's determined to make the most of every last moment of it. Diane can't help but feel kinda guilty about that, though, especially with her father being pestered by IRS agents accusing him of swindling the folks he'd dedicated his life caring for in his nursing home.

Shrugging off the tax man for a moment, at least, it all seems perfect. Neither Lloyd nor Diane had actually been in love before, but they're both pretty certain they're looking it square in the face now. A simple gesture like Lloyd swiping broken glass out of Diane's way while walking her home wins her over that much more. He shivers out of pure bliss the first time they make love, and he sends her a short but wonderful letter afterwards. ...and eventually it all falls apart. Most every teen romance splits its lovebirds apart in the third act just to bring 'em back together with sweeping strings and whirling camerawork once the climax rolls around, but Say Anything... doesn't settle into any of those comfortable clichés. It all makes perfect sense here, and besides, Cameron Crowe isn't interested in tethering himself to the plot in the first place. Say Anything... lives and dies on the strength of its characterization, and even with all of the wonderful color sketched in the background -- Lili Taylor's Corey snarling "Joe
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lies...Joe lies when he cries", for one -- this is essentially a three-character piece. No one involved wants to settle for stock cariactures going through the motions; even as many times as I've watched Say Anything... over the years, I feel so invested in these complex, richly-drawn characters that I sometimes forget I'm even watching a movie. I disappear into it.

There's nothing about Say Anything... that isn't perfect, and it's startling just how fresh and contemporary the film remains all these years later. Even with the best of John Hughes' work, there's still that unavoidable sense that the kitsch is part of the appeal, but aside from an impromptu rap in a gas station parking lot and Jeremy Pivens' hat, nothing about Say Anything... feels the least bit campy or dated. None of it's stale or overly familiar. There's a resonance and a sincerity to it all that continues to affect me, and Crowe and his spectacular cast flesh out the gamut of emotions flawlessly: the hesitancy, the giddiness of young love, quietly baring your soul in a way you never would've thought possible before, the devastating heartbreak when it's torn apart, the reluctance to relent... It's all so honest and real. I've never been in love like that, but this is what I've always felt...always'd be like.

I have nothing the least bit negative to say about Say Anything... I'm still enthralled by its sincerity, the complexity of its characters, and the strength of its exceptionally talented cast. Crowe and all of his actors take the time to color in the margins, and as iconic as the colossal gesture of Lloyd's boombox
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being held high may be, it's some of the smaller moments that really make the movie what it is. Crowe's screenplay is endlessly quotable, and he's assembled a flawless cast. Cusack strikes that perfect balance of quirk, earnestness, and charm -- it's all too easy for either of those to come off as artificial or exaggerated, but he sells it wonderfully -- with a quiet intensity simmering just beneath the surface. He's not an impossibly perfect guy, and that's...well, what makes him so perfect. Ione Skye is an inspired choice. Even with a passing glance, Diane's timidness, intelligence, insecurity, and good heart beam through. She's beautiful but not in the prefabricated Hollywood sense. Diane looks like someone I actually could've known in high school, and Skye's chemistry with Cusack is so convincing that Say Anything... never feels the need to overstate it. It's all there on the screen. John Mahoney puts in a remarkably complex performance as well. Mr. Court gets in the way of his daughter's romance, but even with some of the repulsive choice he makes, he's never the bad guy. There's too much depth and dimension to paint with a brush that broad.

I almost don't want to label Say Anything... a romantic comedy even though that's exactly what it is. It's not the exaggerated, formulaic fantasy that usually springs to mind with the genre, no, but it's not calculatedly artful or smarmily overintellectual either. Say Anything... is honest and sincere, and that pervasive sense of reality includes the delirious fun of young love and a terrific sense of humor along with the hugs and the heartbreak. Even with as many teen romances that have come and gone over the past twenty years, I'm struggling to think of one in the same league as Say Anything..., and it's because the film cares so deeply about its characters. Not only has it held up astonishingly well over the years, I find myself loving Say Anything... more and more every time I see it. It's perfect, and I couldn't be happier that I can say the same about its extraordinary release on Blu-ray. For those who haven't seen Say Anything... in ages, this is a film that deserves to be rediscovered, and those soaking it in for the first time may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the '80s weren't all garish colors, synth-pop, and kitschy comedy. Highly Recommended.

I haven't exactly been bowled over by most of the catalog titles that Fox has been churning out on Blu-ray over the past few months, but I'm pretty thrilled that Say Anything... looks this beautiful in high definition. That's not to say that this twenty year old film is going to be mistaken for something hammered out of the hyperglossy Michael Bay assembly line, but this is as perfect a presentation of Say Anything... as I could ever have hoped to see. The 1.85:1 image just boasts a wonderfully filmlike appearance, and the richer textures, terrific level of detail, and smoother gradients set it far apart from anything DVD could hope to deliver. This Blu-ray disc doesn't suffer from any trace of wear or speckling, and I couldn't spot any of the aftereffects of edge enhancement or excessive noise reduction either. Its AVC encode is given plenty of headroom on this BD-50, and there aren't any hiccups or stutters at all in the authoring. Say Anything... is such a longtime favorite of mine that I was really holding out hope that it'd score the first-rate presentation on Blu-ray that it so richly deserves, and Fox has managed to meet my highest expectations.

Not surprisingly considering that this is a Cameron Crowe film and all, but the highlight of this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is easily the music. The selection of songs is spectacular, of course, with Fishbone, Cheap Trick, Depeche Mode, and The 'Mats on the bill. It's the way they're presented that really grabbed my attention, though. The low-end is punchy and the guitars snarl, and with quite a bit of this music being diagetic, this remix takes care to color certain portions differently depending on where the camera happens to fall. That sense of immersion just makes the mix feel so much more organic and alive. Some of the ambience that makes its way into the surrounds -- the rowdy crowd at a house party, the staff bustling around a nursing home, and even something as traditional as rainfall -- fleshes out a more convincing sense of atmosphere than most. None of the surround effects ever come across as forced or gimmicky either. The film's astonishingly quotable dialogue generally comes through well, although there are a couple of brief stretches where it seemed to be dialed down a little too low. That's an extremely minor concern in an otherwise impressive remix, and Fox has also gone to the effort to appeal to purists by offering a Dolby Digital stereo track as well.

This Blu-ray disc also includes monaural dubs in French and Spanish, and subtitles are offered in English (SDH), Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

  • An Iconic Film Revisited: Say Anything... Twenty Years Later (22 min.; HD):
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    This Blu-ray release of Say Anything... features three new high definition extras, beginning with this extended retrospective. If you've listened to the audio commentary, you've heard quite a bit of this information already, but this featurette is infused with so much personality and enthusiasm that it stands exceptionally well on its own. Cameron Crowe speaks about how much he drew from his life for the first script he'd ever directed, from nicking many of Lloyd's mannerisms from a quirky new neighbor all the way to catching a case of the shivers himself once after having sex. Other topics here include there being so much chemistry on-screen between Ione Skye and John Cusack that Crowe felt as if he were more of a voyeur than a director, Cusack penning a colossal manifesto on Lloyd's world view that shaped the ridiculously quotable bought/sold/processed rant, debating what exactly Lloyd should be doing with that boombox, and Peter Gabriel initially passing on sharing "In Your Eyes" only to learn he'd been watching the wrong tape. Crowe's collaborative directorial style and his wife Nancy Wilson's musical contributions are among the many other topics addressed here.

  • A Conversation with Cameron Crowe (10 min.; HD): Recorded as part of the same interview session as "An Iconic Film Revisited", this chat with Say Anything...'s writer/director delves more deeply into the film, such as Fox initially frowning on the course of the arc with Mr. Court, having to be convinced to direct his own script, trying to capture the spirit of Cusack and his friends after heading out to visit them in Chicago, explaining why exactly Lloyd opted against wearing a mortarboard at graduation, exploring what that pen is meant to represent, and pointing out just how much of a learning experience his first day on the set as a director wound up being.

  • I Love Say Anything... (8 min.; HD): Yanking a page out of the VH1 retrospective playbook, a gaggle of comedians -- from a couple of the Reno 911 guys to the mighty "Weird Al" Yankovic -- fawn over Say Anything.... There's a lot of quoting going on here along with quick observations about their favorite scenes, a few of the brilliant characters milling around in the background, some of the clunkier '80s wardrobe, and even how Lloyd's bought/processed/sold rant in a movie set in Seattle kinda hints at the whole slacker/grunge thing that'd plow through the city a couple years later.

  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (38 min.; SD):
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    Say Anything... features two reels of additional footage, beginning with thirteen extended scenes. Among them are a longer graduation speech, Corey mounting a pre-emptive breakup strike against Joe, Lloyd finally getting around to giving Diane those tips...those English tips, Lloyd and one of the other dinner guests taking a smoke break, Joe and his pals following through with that offer to fix Lloyd up, a lengthier lunch with Diane and her mother's boyfriend, a more involved argument with Philip Baker Hall's IRS agent, and an even more painful breakup. In general, these scenes are more effective in the trimmed-down versions in the final cut -- the longer car ride after the graduation party is the only real exception -- but it's still wonderful to see them all offered here. Deleted scenes of this volume are extremely rare for a catalog title, and the anamorphic widescreen presentation is generally pretty great. It's kind of intriguing to see what kind of an impact such small changes can have, such as Diane's swing-and-a-miss joke in her valedictory speech being played completely differently in this version and Lloyd standing within earshot when the IRS knocks on the Courts' door. This reel runs 25 minutes in total, and footage from the final cut has the color drained away to help put it all in context.

    There are also ten short deleted scenes. The graduation party runs a bit longer with Diane getting hit on by one of her teachers, a ditzy girl pestering Lloyd for some dating advice, and Corey breaking out another from that stack of sixtysomething songs about Joe. The Courts' nursing home also is explored in more detail, including Mr. Court making an impassioned plea to expand the home, Lloyd helping out around the place, and an extended version of the argument between Mr. Court and an IRS agent while weaving around the cafeteria. We also get a quick peek at Diane meeting Lloyd's family -- the ones on this continent, at least -- for the first time.

  • Audio Commentary: In the same way that Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling had so much to say about Fast Times at Ridgemont High that the commentary kept playing eight minutes after the last of the end credits had rolled, Say Anything...'s track opens with a twenty-one minute introduction, meaning that this 100 minute film boasts a commentary that breaks the two-hour mark. Featuring Crowe, John Cusack, and Ione Skye, this is a terrific track too, exceptionally personable and remarkably thorough as well. Among the many highlights are how the story gradually took shape over a long series of meetings with James L. Brooks, Moon Zappa really selling Skye on working with Crowe, shaping the darker side of Lloyd, several of the different songs considered to be blaring from that iconic boombox, how Crowe unexpectedly decided upon such a perfect ending point for the film, and even pointing out cameos by Chynna Phillips and Don "The Dragon" Wilson. This is a fantastic commentary and an essential listen.

  • To Know Say Anything... Is to Love It!:
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    Say Anything... sports a pretty decent subtitle trivia track, lobbing out notes like Jennifer Connelly being mulled over for the part of Diane, Lloyd teaching kickboxing in the same dojo that Cobra Kai had tooled around in The Karate Kid, and really tangential stuff like which year had racked up the most airplane fatalities. I wouldn't tear into this on its own, no, but it's worth flipping on while the commentary is playing.

  • Vintage Featurette (7 min.; SD): This twenty-year-old making of piece is more interesting as a time capsule than anything else, and it's really just an extended trailer with short, promotional interviews and snippets of behind-the-scenes footage interspersed throughout. Some of the comments are pretty insightful, though, such as trying to avoid painting Lloyd as an overly hip charm monster, but it's nothing that anyone who's already dug into the other extras on this disc hasn't heard.

  • TV Spots and Trailers (9 min.; SD): Say Anything... also features eight of the original TV spots as well as two full-length theatrical trailers.

  • Photo Gallery (6 min.; HD): The last of the extras is a high-resolution montage of promotional stills and behind-the-scenes shots.

The Final Word
Even if I hadn't grown up with Say Anything..., just a glance at the cover would've been enough to win me over: John Cusack at his peak and maybe in his single best role, an immense talent like Cameron Crowe making his directorial debut, and that iconic image of Lloyd Dobler holding up that boombox with a smoldering look of defiance in his eyes. The movie absolutely benefits from a spectacular cast and endlessly quotable dialogue, but more than anything, the reason it's endured is because of its sincerity. These aren't cardboard cutouts mindlessly waltzing through some formulaic plot. It's not a paint-by-numbers teen comedy about a dweeby guy keeping his fingers crossed that his impossibly gorgeous pin-up fantasy girl will be hanging off his arm at the junior prom. No, Say Anything... doesn't settle for easy answers. These are people, complex and flawed, and that depth and rich characterization set Say Anything... apart from just another candy-colored slice of '80s nostalgia. It's timeless, really, every bit as compelling, funny, and emotionally wrenching now as it was two full decades ago. Say Anything...'s release on Blu-ray is nearly as remarkable as the film itself, boasting a terrific presentation and an impressively thorough selection of extras. Very, very Highly Recommended.
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