In the movie “Say Anything”, John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobbler and Ione Skye plays Diane Court. Dobbler is– how can we say it politely?– dumb. He’s not very book smart. He likes to hang out with his flakey but earnest and loyal friends and drink beer. He’s a down-to-earth kind of guy.
Diane Court is the class valedictorian. She’s brilliant. She’s beautiful. She’s classy. She’s not even a snob– surprise. She’s definitely going to university. In a very, very wise touch, “Say Anything” shows her valedictory address as being politely received by a bewildered but respectful class. There is a lot of nuance to that relationship: she’s rich and classy and intellectual, but they don’t automatically disrespect her for it. And she gets that she’s never going connect with these kids, really.
Of course, she ends up wanting to marry a guy whose idea of culture is stabbing a beer can with a pen. Don’t all beautiful, smart, well-off women just crave that authentic, boyish, missionary position with the faint smell of barf in the back seat of the domestic sedan? Of course they do.
Well, actually, sometimes they do.
So how do we know Diane is smart? We are told that she is, by Dobbler’s friends, who tell him she’s out of his league. She is played as articulate and thoughtful by Ione Skye but then this is the movies: most characters are articulate and thoughtful, as needed. But it is a striking and consistent feature of film-world that smart characters don’t have any particular taste in anything. Is it because the writer and director are afraid to go out on limb? What if Diane Court loved Rossini or Balzac or Dostoevsky or Dylan or Picasso or Van Gogh?
It would scare away the adolescent girls who want to project themselves into the orbit around Diane Court because she has boobs and looks glamorous. And for the males, she will be their ornament and she’ll be able to balance a check book while they’re out hunting or rebuilding the engine on the pickup.
I like “Say Anything”. I think it is above average. The characters are unusually well-rounded and complex. When Dobbler takes Diane to a party, he doesn’t feel the need to be tethered to her. He wanders around freely and she wanders around freely, and he checks on her regularly, which she likes. That’s believable and fresh. Dobbler may be a grunt but he’s wise about girls.
Diane’s father opposes the relationship but he’s not mean or stupid– for most of the film–, and when Lloyd leaves another message on the phone for Diane, he urges her to pick up.
In the one sequence in which the film’s seams show, he pressures her to drop the relationship because he has better things in mind for her. Because she is, after all, out of his league. She’s not the snob: he is.
Dobbler is charming, if pedestrian, and I suspect that Diane Court, in real life, would eventually regret not taking the time to expand her horizons before running off with a home-town grunt, even if he is devoted and nice. His only passion is for kick-boxing.
In real life, yes, I know: girls like Diane Court do fall for guys like Lloyd Dobbler, because it’s hard to be smart, to pay your own way, to work, to take a challenging job. Some smart girls just want to retreat into the security and stability of a relationship with a reliable, hard-working, honest guy.
Of course of course of course, this is America, where smart men are always evil and dumb and women are funny. It is decreed by the laws of Hollywood that no film shall ever show a woman falling hard for a man because he is smart. This would piss off the audiences, I suppose, who seem to be, by a rather overwhelming majority, stupid. Or are they? I don’t know. This might have been a film whose success was largely driven by female taste:
The smart man in “Say Anything” is Diane’s father, James, who robs vulnerable old people.
All right, let me think. Is there a movie in which the beautiful heroine– it doesn’t really matter if she’s smart or not as long as she has large breasts — falls in love with a man because he is smart?
The 2013 version of this dynamic is “The Spectacular Now”, which rather effectively destroys the Dobbler myth: Sutter is an alcoholic jerk. He eventually finds redemption, because, we understand, he is smart enough to see into the future. We can believe that Lloyd Dobbler is a decent guy because “Say Anything” is a smart movie, but I suspect that the real Lloyd Dobblers in the world are more like Sutter.
The pinnacle of the anti-smart movies, of course, are the Seth Rogen mysteries. I call them mysteries because it’s hard to figure out why it is entertaining to watch men act like adolescents, farting, belching, making jokes about shitting or drinking, or barfing, or sex, or commitment, or anything intelligent, and generally wallowing in their own precious Republicanhood, and upholding family values.
In “Say Anything”, Diane Court’s father is depicted as loving and sophisticated and wise, and Diane obviously loves him deeply. Then it is revealed that he has been embezzling money from residents at a nursing home he administers.
The transformation from love to contempt is probably one of the two or three weaknesses of the film, and Hughes manipulates the score by telegraphing to the audience that her father is really a jerk.
In “Breaking Bad”, he might be seen as heroic— just trying to take care of his family. It is a credit to “Say Anything” that he is not admired for it. It is even more admirable that “Say Anything” reveals him as a complex character, a mix of good and bad.