Say Anything… (1989)

What’s this? An ‘80s teen movie without its own powerhouse rock anthem? Or tear-inducing, bring-the-house-down climax? Or band of merry outcasts searching for meaning in their lives amid the wreckage of yet another boozy house party?

The closest Say Anything… comes to its wacky ‘80s brethren is during an early shindig, which features much of the post-graduation gyrating you’d expect from high school liberated teens as they get wasted, party up and boogy down. Even there, though, more is going on than a simple excuse to see young things get trollied – this is where we begin to discover who directionless Lloyd (John Cusack) and his improbably brainy date Diane (Ione Skye) really are.

He’s finally asked her out after pining for her throughout high school, and only Lloyd’s scrappy, motor-mouthed attitude wins him Diane’s attention. That attention soon develops into affection, then romance, as the two fall for one another. But Diane’s about to fly off to England for college, and her father (John Mahoney) grows increasingly concerned about the duo’s attachment to one another.

There’s an understated indie vibe to director Cameron Crowe’s sophomore directing gig that sets it apart from the rest of the ‘80s rat pack. Secondary characters have odd little moments that don’t especially go anywhere (Lili Taylor’s breathy Corey is obsessed with a guy who’s no good for her), but add to a greater tapestry. There’s also a conspicuous absence of musical montages or zany antics (for those, see Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club et al).

That’s mostly because Crowe keeps his cast tight. The focus rarely splits away from our central trio (Lloyd, Diane, Diane’s father) as their relationships with each other evolve and alter. Mahoney in particular excels as the initially understanding cool dad who changes massively as his relationship with his daughter is put under strain – not least when he’s investigated for tax evasion.

It’s all vaguely muted, and those viewers expecting a hoot-fest in the vein of other ‘80s teen classics might find Crowe’s take on the genre a little too contemplative. Plainly-shot and unshowy, Say Anything… manages to tap into a core truth of teen existence – that it’s often messy, sporadically boring and overtly emotional. Much like the film itself. 3/5