September 27, 2009

Say Anything (Else)

**If you hear the 1989 cassette cut of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" blaring outside your window, don't call the cops. Find a condom.**

There are few things in this world that make me feel romantic.

1989's "Say Anything" is one of those things I have experienced in my life that accurately, if somewhat ineptly, captures the feeling of falling deeply, and irrevocably, in love. When John Cusack lifts that boombox over his head and makes those nervous facial twitches, I can't help but going week in the knees like Eagles' tackle Jerome McDougle at the prospect of actually playing football.

And to put my statement in context: although I am a sucker for romance films (I cried during "A Walk to Remember" like I hadn't cried since Littlefoot's mother died at the beginning of "The Land Before Time"), I never get involved with romantic subplots. If the badass hero of an action movie is in love with his sexy heroine, I just go along with it without ever actually batting an eyelash. But a pathetic, lovable kickboxer played by John Cusack standing outside my window blaring the top 1000 pop hits of the 1980s one by one from a jimmyrigged cassette player? I would make love to him on the spot, and not just because he's my boyfriend.

But, since I am The Midnight Movie Guy and not The "Sleepless in Seattle" Guy or The "such a pussy, why won't he stop crying in his room every time he hears Coldplay on the radio?" Guy, I might as well point out the aspects of this movie that get me every time.

First, "Say Anything" starts with the great granddaddy of cold opens. It's an ice opening. A liquid nitrogen opening. A breezy day on the north pole of Pluto opening. Starting from the moment the Twentieth Century Fox tag appears, it takes less than 15 seconds for us to go through exactly one establishing shot, two title-overs (the director's name and "Say Anything..."), and a plot-heavy opening line accompanied by someone absently noodling on a guitar. I had to restart the movie THREE TIMES because each time I thought I had missed some sort of exposition, establishing shot, or theme music that would make this opening less frigid. To make it worse, the "beginning" that's supposed to happen after the cold open never actually comes. Instead, we're launched into an incomprehensible mess of cinema verite screenwriting, drunk cinematography, and teenybopper direction which, when put together, could be called "romantic comedy" only by those who have a very forgiving definition thereof. If you're the kind of person who needs to be lulled into suspending your hard-earned disbelief, forget this shit and stick with the slowest film ever made.

And what follows is the mushiest possible romance late-80's realism will allow-- consider, for example the name "Loyd Dobbler." It's as if a group of Hollywood screenwriters locked themselves in a room and brainstormed until they came up with the most awkward combination of sounds in the English language and slammed them together with two capital letters. Cusack delivers his lines with the nervous rush of Dennis Miller with a speech impediment, and comes off simultaneously witless and witty in a way that makes you want to kiss him every time he says "...um," which is far more often than any other actor could pull off.

But by far the most annoying aspect of Say Anything is the screenwriting. The screenwriter uses a trick where each scene begins in the middle of a conversation, and then suddenly cuts off before the end. We never linger or stay to listen, as if the cameraman had such severe attention deficit disorder that he couldn't follow a whole conversation without his head exploding like a David Cronenberg extra. Not only will the scenes suddenly stop, but with them goes the entire soundtrack! If you ever want to hear more than eight measures of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," you better go out and buy the cassette because the sound editor aborts the song mid-lyric like a musical George Tiller.

But for everything bad I could say about the writing or the direction or the music or the cinematography, the last scene could remind even this cold-hearted cynical moviegoer what a good romance should be. I don't care if the rest of the movie feels like a frenetic late-80's music video, When Cusack and Ione Skye sit on the airplane to England together, waiting for the "ding" of the seatbelts sign, suddenly the artfulness of the work shines through in a simple act of symbolic realism. It's like Waiting for Godot except instead of Godot we've got the rest of the 1990s waiting for us, and any artist that could say that could say anything.

I would fly off with John Cusack any day.

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