I’ve been putting off writing about Say Anything…, because it’s tough to describe the film experience that set off a slow explosion (oxymoron be damned) of sorts. (Yes, the ellipsis is part of the title.) I’d decided to watch the film on a whim, largely because of the high rating on its IMDB page. (I don’t rely slavishly on the ratings – lots of films I love have not been similarly loved by IMDB users, and vice versa. But it is probably worthwhile checking something out when lots of people think that it’s good. And I found out subsequently that Roger Ebert – a film critic I respect enormously simply because his opinion is always a considered one, though I do disagree with him on occasion – considered Say Anything… a Great Movie.) Funny how such a casual decision led, gradually, to discoveries substantial enough to change my life. For the better. Not a lot, but enough.

Reaction on first viewing of Say Anything…: ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good’. Could not get more specific than that, which is unusual. I generally find it easy to size up most films after one viewing, so when I can’t articulate much more than ‘this is good’, then repeat viewings are in order, for me to fully appreciate the thing.

Reactions from many, many viewings: Amazingly nuanced story-telling and characters. Realistic dialogue realistically delivered, with a surprising number of memorable lines. Endlessly amusing, packed with jokes of all kinds; but the humour is gentle and empathetic. Life-affirming in subtle but important ways, right down to the ending. And, most salient for the purpose of my anecdote, with staggering acting by John Cusack. I supposed that his personality had to be exactly like Lloyd Dobler’s in real life – so gut level-convincing was his performance as Lloyd – that it came as quite a shock to watch Mr. Cusack coming across just as real when playing Walter Gibson, a vastly different character, in The Sure Thing.

John Cusack was one of those actors I’d never really heard of, and not just because he didn’t usually take on blockbusters. In fact, I had seen him in action (no pun intended) in the one blockbuster he’s done, Con Air, but ironically didn’t even remember that he was in it despite him having a substantial role. Say Anything… was a revelation, because it introduced me to some of the most realistic, intelligent, emotionally sophisticated acting I’d ever seen. Suffice it to say I became a real admirer, and set about watching a whole lot of films in his back catalogue. Along the way I started finding him extremely interesting as a person as well, insofar as it is possible to know what an actor is like in real life. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Say Anything… led to John Cusack, who led me to a whole lot of his films including Grosse Pointe Blank, the watching of which triggered my first real interest in popular music. Voila. (Incidentally I am very fond of the Replacements song used in Say Anything…, ‘Within Your Reach’, which Mr. Cusack has described as being completely apposite as a soundtrack to his own teenage years.)

Anyway. I was only six years old when Say Anything… came out in theatres in 1989, which meant that I missed it along with all the other ‘80s teen films. Comparisons are odious and all that, but it’s hard not to feel that Say Anything was in a league of its own in this genre, even including the really famous John Hughes/Brat Pack ones, those that I have watched. Though the label ‘teen film’ is a mischaracterisation in this case and doesn’t do Say Anything… justice: I’m pretty sure adults would get just as much, if not more, enjoyment out of the film, and romance, while a part of the story, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

It is almost impossible to summarise the plot of Say Anything… without making it sound, yup, like a teen film, so I shan’t try, especially since I don’t pretend to be writing a review. Besides, the plot really isn’t the point. Acting-wise, Mr. Cusack aside, John Mahoney and Ione Skye deliver similarly strong performances as the other two main characters, and even those in bit parts are memorable. But a whole lot of credit must go to the brilliantly incisive and funny yet economical script, written by Cameron Crowe (he of Almost Famous fame), and unobtrusive yet sympathetic direction, done by the same, all the more remarkable for the fact that he was directing for the first time. (It must be tough to have somehow produced a master-work on your first outing: it’d be hanging over your head for the rest of your career.)

Till today, Say Anything… remains one of my favourite John Cusack films, and I’ve watched quite a lot of them. It’s right up there with High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank. What is more, it is one of my favourite films, period.