Sunday, March 13, 2011


There’s a scene in SAY ANYTHING where Lloyd Dobler is at a graduation party with Diane Court, and this goofy-looking guy with a bad 80s haircut comes up to him and says, “How did you get Diane Court to go out with you?” Lloyd responds, matter-of-fact, “I called her up.” The other guy, still confused, adds, “But how come it worked? I mean, like, who are you?” Lloyd answers, “I’m Lloyd Dobler.” You could say that he’s playing it cool, but really Lloyd is just stating the facts. He did convince Diane Court to go out with him simply by calling her up. At this point in the movie, even Diane Court isn’t quite sure why she said yes. The goofy-looking guy, obviously stoned, takes a few seconds to fully process the information, then smiles. “This is great,” he says, “This gives me hope.”

On the DVD commentary, Crowe says that SAY ANYTHING originated with the character of Diane Court. The writer/director calls Diane a “golden girl." One of the characters in the film clarifies: "She's a brain trapped in the body of a game show hostess.” Smart and beautiful, ambitious yet humble. The problem with the script, Crowe says, was inventing a guy who actually deserved Diane Court. He was stumped, until the solution showed up on his doorstep one day – in the guise of a gentleman kickboxer named Lowell. Crowe describes his real-life inspiration for Lloyd Dobler as stoic, noble, polite and (most importantly) optimistic. That’s how he wrote the character.

But that's only half of Lloyd Dobler. Crowe admits that he wrote a sunny character, someone who is instinctively optimistic. Actor John Cusack gave the character more complexity. Cusack says he wanted Lloyd to be a true teenager of the Reagan era – someone jaded and angry about yuppie culture, and therefore very anxious about the future. It was Cusack who came up with Lloyd’s GRADUATE-esque manifesto: “I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.” As Lloyd explains to his guidance counselor, he’s “looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.” Deep down, he's too restless to settle for anything less.

That’s why he falls for Diane. She is clearly marked for greatness. Which brings us to the main question: Why does Diane Court fall for Lloyd Dobler? That’s what the goofy-looking guy at the party – and probably a good portion of the male audience – is trying to figure out. In high school, what I personally keyed in on was the phone call. “I just called her up,” Lloyd said. Actually, it wasn’t quite that simple. He had to psyche himself up for the phone call by kicking a punching bag for a while. Once the adrenaline was flowing, he picked up the phone and dialed Diane's number. (Not just six numbers... All seven of them.)

I figured I could handle that. I went for a three mile run, then called up a girl I’d only talked to once or twice. A girl who was way too beautiful and way too smart to ever date me. She was also a year older -- and when you're a freshman in high school, that's a pretty big deal. I had no plan about what to say to her. I was 15 and had no car, so I couldn’t very well ask her out on a date.... I figured I'd just keep talking until she joined in or hung up.

Unlike Lloyd, I didn’t get the girl. But she did become one of my closest friends for the next several years. That said, I figured the random phone call had been effective enough to warrant a second attempt. The next attempt didn’t go as well. The girl and I had absolutely nothing in common. To make matters worse, she had an on-again, off-again boyfriend who liked to slash people’s tires. I figured: Third time’s the charm. By that point, I had a license so I could actually propose a date. I didn’t get a date, but I got another close friend.

It’s no great mystery why I couldn’t pull off the “Lloyd Dobler effect.” First of all, I don’t look like John Cusack. Second, I never had the guts or the charm to deliver the “friends with potential” line. Most importantly, I was insecure. That’s the one thing that Lloyd Dobler is not, and it’s the secret of SAY ANYTHING. On the DVD commentary, Cameron Crowe and John Cusack sum up the essence of the character by saying that, for him, “optimism is a revolutionary act.”

Lloyd Dobler is often frustrated and angry, and he obviously has some violent tendencies (the guy wants to be a professional kickboxer, for crying out loud), but he always restrains his urge to lash out... Even in the scene where he gives Diane his heart and she gives him a pen... Even when she comes back to him and pleads for his forgiveness. (What guy, post-breakup, hasn’t dreamed of turning this opportunity into a cruel revenge scenario?) In the worst of circumstances, Lloyd makes a conscious choice to follow his better instincts and to present his best side to the world. It took me a while to learn that lesson.

The most famous scene in SAY ANYTHING is the one where Lloyd fights for Diane by showing up outside her bedroom window, and playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” on his boom box. The music and the look on John Cusack's face in that scene say everything you need to know about Lloyd and the movie. Extra footage from the special edition DVD shows that this look almost didn't exist. In every other take on this scene, the look on Cusack’s face is defiantly hostile. It's clear that Lloyd wants to prove his point (that Diane still needs him) more than he actually wants her back. The scene is too much about his fragile male ego, and not enough about his love for Diane. On the other hand, the take in the final film achieves a perfect balance: Lloyd looks proud and stoic, but not petulant. Apparently, he has taken to heart his friend Cory’s advice: “Be a man. Don’t be a guy…”

The music in the scene (Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," which became a staple on radio request shows after the movie was released) was also a near-miss. Cameron Crowe originally wanted to use Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover." When the scene was shot the first time, he opted instead for Fishbone’s “Turn the Other Way.” Neither song would have conveyed emotional vulnerability. Again, the scene would have been about Lloyd’s wounded pride instead of his unwavering love for Diane.

Bottom line: It took at least two men to invent Lloyd Dobler… one who was maybe a little too sunny to win Diane's heart and one who was maybe a little too dark to keep it. Combine the two and you've got a story that shows we can only attain the unattainable once we’ve learned how to balance ego and selfless love, self-control and surrender. Lloyd is a character who can handle genuine intimacy. That's why he gets the girl. And that’s probably the most significant realization I ever took away from any teen angst movie... Maybe even one of the most helpful realizations I’ve ever taken away from any movie.

On a random side-note, Cameron Crowe says on the DVD commentary that the boom box scene was shot in a park opposite the 7-11 where Lloyd kicks broken glass out of Diane’s way. About a year ago, someone told me that the 7-11 in SAY ANYTHING is the one at the corner of Magnolia and Tujunga in Valley Village. As it happens, there's a huge park across the street, on the other side of Tujunga. It's hard to tell if this is the same place, but like the idea that Lloyd and Diane’s courtship might have taken place in my backyard.

1 comment:

  1. That is the right place. :) You can read a post I wrote about the park here -