At first, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) doesn’t seem to have a hell of a lot going for him. Most of his friends are girls, he lives with his bitter sister while his service parents float about overseas, and beyond a long-shot fascination with the sport of kickboxing, he has no idea what he is going to do with his life. He is such a jittery bundle of nerves that he merely keeps talking until his point has been made or at least been long forgotten. Nevertheless “looking for a dare to be great situation,” he shoots the works and asks out pretty valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye). She’s the kind of girl who has memorized two thirds of the dictionary, takes college classes in her spare time, doesn’t realize how hot she is and is closer to her father than the assortment of people she has barely met at school.
John Cusack is a revelation in this movie. He was entertaining in “The Sure Thing” and “Better Off Dead” as a sort of junior Bill Murray, but his Lloyd Dobler is a wonderful unique creation. He has no direction and no plans for the future, but after fifteen minutes you can tell that he is probably the most genuinely decent and amusing person you have ever met. When he and Diane hit it off, he decides the only thing he really wants to do with his life is be with her. “What I really want to do with my life, what I want to do for a living, is I want to be with your daughter. I’m good at it.”
This doesn’t particularly sit right with Jim Court (John Mahoney), Diane’s driven father who is used to being her best and possibly only friend. Jim doesn’t get the Lloyd Dobler fascination, doesn’t want to get the Lloyd Dobler fascination, and pressures his good-hearted daughter to break the poor kickboxing fool’s heart.
I don’t think there is any worse feeling in the world than finally knowing what you want to do with your life and who you want to do it with, and having her parent slam the door in your face. The notion that you should be happy, that you’ve met exactly the person you should be spending the rest of your life with and you can’t be with her because of some indistinct barrier you can’t even hope to understand, that is what leads weeping men to wander the empty night in the rain, blasting songs from better times, and hoping that their pain will make their case seem all the more noble and legitimate. Lloyd has a disastrously funny speech in front of the Court’s family and friends, where he declares his indecision in all matters not Diane. It lands with a damning thud of silence that can be heard for blocks. I may be biased because I’ve made that speech, I’ve heard that silence, and I’ve been as unable to sort it out as the usually ever-happy Lloyd in even his darkest moment.
The relationship between Diane and her father is well-structured and everyone’s motives are heartbreakingly understandable. There is a side plot with dad and the IRS, but this movie is all about whether deserving Lloyd gets the girl of his dreams. To me, “Say Anything” is without a shadow of a doubt the most rewarding, funny, and likable romance of the last twenty years. It heralds the decency of romantic love against the gears of a cold, grinding mechanical world.