Let's put aside for a moment my great appreciation for John Cusack and Peter Gabriel, and the fact that Ione Skye looks like my fabulous friend Kristy Koopman. I just watched Say Anything... for the first time (yeah, I know, thanks), and this movie is unbelievable. Is it an amazing romantic movie? Yes. But the best part is that it's not a traditional one. Granted, it steps in a couple of the mud-puddles that others have, and perhaps the irony is that it may have set up those puddles to begin with, but this is a romantic film of honesty.
One thing that immediately struck me, once it got past it's starry-eyed first-love butterflies is the clarity to their conversations. The way that they deal with their problems is really rather extraordinary. The way that the two protagonists in most romantic comedies get over their issues is always terribly superficial, and often involves some outside source coming in at the last minute to save the day, or perhaps some simple moment of courage that sets everything right.
The beauty of Say Anything... is that it doesn't all work out. Romantic films like to parade themselves as windows of truth into the way romance can really happen, if we believe enough. And while this one might not be the posterchild for that mantra, it does something extraordinary. It tests our patience, and it reminds us that we don't always win. Everything doesn't always go "to plan."
The fact that the film ends with Diane's father incarcerated is a big choice. But there is an even bigger choice - the last shot of the film. If this is a spoiler for you, I'm sorry, but you, like me, have had just shy of twenty years to see this one so I'm going to spoil away. The final shot, of the young couple on a plane to England, fearfully awaiting the ding, which will come "any second now," that means everything is OK. That last shot lasts 23 seconds. Yes, it doesn't take a degree in much of anything to figure out that this shot is about anticipation, and puts us in their shoes. But it's twenty-three seconds. While that's not much for some (my favorite director is Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, for crissakes), that is a pretty bold move for a popular romantic comedy. The shot is completely static, and the frame contains virtually no movement and only one line of dialog. This is fabulous.
I have the tendency to talk things to death, to analyze things, and it feels crude and almost inhumane for me to try to theorize a late-80's romantic comedy, so I won't keep going any further than I have. But I will say this; this movie is a classic for a reason. Yes, it has some thrills, but it deals with the realities of a young relationship in a very mature and realistic way. There are always some movie-magic moments in those relationships, and then there are the moments of painful honesty where we don't know how to deal with the thing that we have to deal with. There is no such thing as a total happy ending. As Diane says, "good things always happen with bad things." You don't get to have your cake and eat it too. And at the end of it all, sometimes we just have to wait longer than we'd like for the "ding" sound that means everything is OK.