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On April 14, 1989, Cameron Crowe brought his directorial debut, Say Anything, to theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the John Cusack-starrer is below:
Say Anything is an easy film to like. Ex-rock journalist Cameron Crowe, known for two screenplays about teenagers caught up in the fast lane, has written and directed (for the first time) a surprisingly gentle comedy about teens that concerns itself with values and love.
The characters are all likeable too. No real villains here — only people who make mistakes in the name of love. All this amiability blunts the edge Crowe obviously wants to give his comedy. But the film has enough funny, offbeat moments to qualify as a sleeper. Critical acclaim coupled with strong word of mouth could generate a solid theatrical payoff before the summer heavyweight releases.
As an intuitive and sympathetic look at teenagers on the verge of Big Decisions, Say Anything stakes out territory somewhere between John Hughes’ adolescent fantasies and the corrosive satire in Heathers. Two relationships occupy the film’s center. An unlikely romance blossoms between a pair of recent Seattle high school grads — John Cusack’s resolute underachiever and Ione Skye’s brainy class valedictorian who is, in the words of one character, “trapped inside the body of a game show hostess.” This, however, upsets the ambitious plans of Skye’s doting, divorced father, John Mahoney.
Conflict emerges slowly as the first relationship deepens and the second one threatens to drown in sweetness. At moments Crowe seems lost in a welter of teen emotions. But thanks to a lively bunch of supporting characters, things never drag.
Cusack can pour out his feelings to several women who share his life. There’s his sister — played by his real sister, Joan Cusack — with whom he lives since their father is a military commander posted in Europe; Lili Taylor, a musician whose own troubled love life supplies the basic material for her songwriting; and Amy Brooks, another gal pal who mediates disputes with Cusack and Taylor.
Skye has taken so many advanced college prep courses off campus that she scarcely knows her own classmates. So she can only unburden her heart in truth-telling sessions with dad. When she confesses that she slept with Cusack, Mahoney struggles to bury his near-incestuous jealousy. Mostly, he worries that his beloved daughter may give up her fellowship to study in England for the sake of a boy whose only apparent goal in life is to be a kickboxer.
Parental disapproval of a daughter’s boyfriend is not going to sustain any film these days. So real jeopardy finally arrives, quite literally out of the blue, with a knock on the door one evening. Two IRS agents say they intend to audit Mahoney’s nursing home business. This awkward dramatic device is never convincing, especially in its impact on the otherwise smooth-sailing love affair.
The sincerity of the actors helps clarify some of the peculiar behavior. Cusack again proves adept at playing male sensibility without acting the wimp. His performance here is funny and affecting. Skye copes well with a seriously underwritten part. Her youthful confusion and anxieties are always believable. Mahoney’s besotted dad is not so much complex as contradictory. Mahoney plays him so affably that when his dark side does emerge, it feels as if he’s been wearing a Halloween mask the whole time.
Producer Polly Platt surrounds her first-time director with top pros. Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs gives Seattle a cool romantic glow. Production designer Mark Mansbridge provides the graceful locations and sets. Editor/co-producer Richard Marks puts a fine polish on the scenes. Richard Gibbs and Anne Dudley contribute an appealing soft rock score.
One rather odd credit pops up in the final crawl. Eric Stoltz, who acted in Crowe’s two scripted films — Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Wild Life — not only contributes a cameo during a graduation party scene, but also performed chores as a production assistant. Apparently, he just likes to hang out on Cameron Crowe sets. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on April 10, 1989.
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