Love Like The Movies: Say Anything (1989)

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How have movies shaped modern culture in our pursuit of love? Why have some films left such an impact that audiences go back to it across cultures and eras? Is there anything we can learn from movie love or is it the idealized dream of hopeless romantics? Before The Cyborgs will attempt to answer some of these questions in Love Like The Movies – a month-long exploration of love, romance, and film.


It’s fitting that we begin this journey into the makings of “movie love” with 1989’s Say Anything for it functions as a crossroads between the John Hughes teen romance movies of the 80s and the golden era of the modern romantic comedy that would begin with the release of When Harry Met Sally later that same year. The directorial debut of Cameron Crowe, Say Anything stars John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, the uninspired wannabe kickboxer that doesn’t know what he wants in life but knows he wants one Diane Court (Ione Skye). On paper, we have a  match made for disaster as Diane is the all too perfect if somewhat sheltered class valedictorian destined for greatness while Lloyd is the polar opposite, underachieving, unpopular and quite frank about his lack of a stable future. In short, we have a classic movie romance.

And romance they did albeit tentatively at first, the pair gradually blossoms towards a genuine love. This is where you have to commend Crowe, especially in his early films and maybe most notably here is his respect for his characters. Other films in the teenage romance genre especially today have an air of cynicism to them. In these, the only reason two people come together is because they are victims of circumstance (they have some debilitating condition that forces them lower on the social ladder thereby allowing them to consider someone they wouldn’t before) or in even more cynical cases, the teen is only interested in sex and sees the other person more as an object rather than an actual human being.

Say Anything shows a maturity beyond its characters years.  There is a warmth to the film because Lloyd cares for Diane and Diane for Lloyd. There are no ulterior motives to begin the romance nor is there any pretending to be something they are not to impress the other, all common tropes in the genre. Instead, it is a  genuine relationship that develops gradually between two people, a touch of realism in an otherwise cliche and cynical genre. 

Perhaps Say Anything ’s most important contribution to modern romance though is in its most iconic scene (see below). In it we see Lloyd complete with a boombox over his head blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes through its speakers in an attempt to win back a sullen Diane. Cusack may not know it but that singular moment began a phenomenon in modern romance: The grand gesture.

While not the first movie to pull off such a move, it is certainly one of the most memorable. With it came the millions of impressionable boys who now believed that they could do the same thing to win over the object of their affections and the millions of equally impressionable girls waiting for their crushes to do the same thing to win them over.

Cameron Crowe inadvertently started a firestorm, a scene that has now become a cultural touchstone whose effect still resonates in the romance movie genre today. From the  Find the first edition of that book she likes” to the “write a song about her and sing it in front of an unsuspecting crowd” or my favourite “chase her as she’s about to leave going through traffic, airport security etc. to declare your undying love for her” the grand romantic gesture lives on.

As iconic as the boombox scene is,  I humbly suggest that the most romantic scene in the film is when Lloyd comforts Diane as the plane they are on is about to take off (she has a fear of flying). For is that not what we really want? Someone, to face our fears with? Someone, who we know will be there no matter what? Someone, who we know loves us for who we are not our wealth or our looks? As bold as the grand gesture is, it’s the little things that count and to that end, the one who does these things need not the grand gesture or extravagant speeches for if she realizes what she has then he literally can say anything.

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Nate Lam
Nate Lam
Editor-in-chief of Before The Cyborgs. Part-time filmmaker and occasional short story author. One day he hopes to be as cool as Bill Murray.



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