Movie magic is often visual, but sometimes it’s simply a matter of a screenwriter, who is just getting a handle on his unique voice, and an actor, who is just getting a handle on his distinct persona, coming together at the right time. Such was the case with Say Anything…, in which writer-director Cameron Crowe’s graduation-speech homilies were given an effervescent sincerity by John Cusack, an actor who could be described as a valedictorian class clown.
Say Anything… opens with a literal graduation speech, given by Diane Court (Ione Skye), a smart, pretty but detached high-school senior whose academic rigor has left little time for friendship. Eager to fill that void is Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler, a fellow senior who could care less about his future, but not out of some sort of rebellious cynicism. Lloyd is more like a wet-eyed puppy, simply happy to be alive. “Get in a good mood,” he tells his older sister (Joan Cusack), with whom he lives. For Lloyd, it’s that simple.
Say Anything… charts the blooming, if unlikely, romance between Lloyd and Diane, marking it with gestures both grand (Lloyd lifting the boom box over his head outside Diane’s window) and small (“You’re shaking,” she tells him during a moment of intimacy in the back seat of Lloyd’s car). All of this rings undeniably true, thanks to Crowe’s deft touch as a screenwriter and Cusack’s unbridled enthusiasm. Even an undeniably speechy moment – Lloyd’s declaration that he doesn’t “want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career” – has a natural flow because of the way it seems to spring instinctively from Lloyd’s active imagination. It’s one kid’s declaration of independence, and in that sense a graduation speech all its own.