Hadley Freeman is a columnist and features writer for The Guardian. Go find her book Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore). It’s full of Hadley’s love and knowledge of so many great ’80s films. You’ll want to watch, or rewatch, every single one.
Lily Percy, host: Hello, movie fans. I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be your guide this week as I talk to Guardian writer Hadley Freeman about the awesome ’80s teen movie that changed her life, Say Anything. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what to expect. But if you haven’t, get ready to fall in love with Lloyd Dobler.
[music: “You Want It,” by Cheap Trick, from Say Anything: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
Ms. Percy: Lloyd Dobler, Lloyd Dobler, Lloyd Dobler — he is the reason why Say Anything is one of the iconic movies of the ’80s. He’s kind of the archetype for the dreamboat that every girl wants to date — and every girl, also, wants to be best friends with.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Percy: Lloyd Dobler is played by John Cusack in one of the definitive roles that he did in the ’80s. It was around the time period that he did Better Off Dead and all the other nerdy guys that he was known for. Say Anything also has Lili Taylor starring as Corey, one of Lloyd’s best friends and kind of the cool girl you want to be.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Percy: Lloyd is obsessed with Diane Court, played by Ione Skye. And she’s the girl that you’re jealous of: she gets the 4.0, she gets the scholarships, nobody really knows her, and yet, Lloyd somehow manages to win her heart. But the thing that really makes this movie so special and really ahead of its time is the way that it portrays women and men being friends. And you really see that in the Corey-Lloyd relationship.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Percy: And the thing that makes their friendship so unique and is what writer Hadley Freeman loves so much about the movie is that it’s not about sex. It’s about respect and admiration and love, at the heart of it; and that’s just something you didn’t see in the ’80s — and you still don’t see, in movies today.
[music: “Within Your Reach,” by The Replacements, from Say Anything: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
Ms. Percy: [laughs] So you’ve written a lot about ’80s movies and how they defined and shaped you; who you are today. And you wrote about a lot of these in your book, Life Moves Pretty Fast. So I’m wondering, what lessons did you learn, specifically, from Say Anything — the kind that you found nowhere else?
Ms. Freeman: Oh, Say Anything. Say Anything is such a special movie. I re-watched it last night for, literally, the ten billionth time, as my husband put it; and it’s so soulful. And the thing that always strikes me with Say Anything is, it’s so much better than it needs to be. It really could’ve been just a phoned-in teen movie about some guy falling in love with the high school queen. And it’s got so much richness in it. The lessons, for me, all come from Lili Taylor, who I just think is amazing in that movie, so much, [laughs] as Corey. And when she says, “Don’t be a guy. There’s so many guys in the world. Be a man.” “Be a man” — that’s the greatest line.
Ms. Percy: In that great voice of hers, too, that raspiness that she has.
Ms. Freeman: [laughs] So good. She’s so funny in that movie. And also, the other great one is that boys and girls can be friends, which is a lesson you don’t learn from pretty much any other teen movie in the ’80s — or any other teen movie made since. D.C. and Corey are just friends with Lloyd — who’s, obviously, John Cusack. There’s no twist at the end where they suddenly realize they’re in love with him, or he should actually be in love with them, and he needs to dump the pretty girl. They’re literally just friends, and they’re rooting for him. And I love that so much. I can’t think of any other place where you see that, where you see a totally platonic friendship between heterosexual boys and girls, 18-year-olds. Because that was my experience, when I was at co-ed boarding school; when I went to a boarding school here, in England. And I was just friends with these guys. And I love that so much.
And, also, her; she’s very good. I mean Ione Skye. I love that she’s beautiful but nerdy. That’s a very unusual combination. And obviously, in my fantasy, I’m that; and that is [laughs] — I was not as good at school as her, and I’m nowhere near as beautiful as Ione Skye. But when you’re 18, you can pretend you are, in some way. And the real lesson, I guess, also, is just how beautiful something that’s seen as quite trashy can be. So an ’80s teen movie — that’s seen as pretty flimsy. But that writing is better than any movie I’ve seen for years, to be honest. The writing is so perfect, and the characterization is so great, and all of the relationships between the characters — like I love the relationship between Joan and John Cusack. I always love seeing them act together, and in this, as the brother and sister, they are great. And him with her son, and all that kind of stuff, is so beautifully drawn. I just think it’s perfect.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Percy: So let’s talk about the gender roles in Say Anything. I watched it again this week, and I was thinking how struck I was that Lloyd spends the whole movie basically pining after Diane — he is completely devoted to her. He’s, in many ways, the stereotypical woman’s role in a rom-com.
Ms. Freeman: [laughs] I know; it’s true.
Ms. Percy: It’s so before its time, when you look at the 1989 — the fact that he was doing this then. And I just wonder — you’ve written a lot about how hard it is to be a woman and watch movies, and to be a female movie fan. And you even had this great line in your book when you say, “The truth is, the only reason rom-coms are terrible, these days, is that Hollywood stopped giving a shirt about women.” And that’s what it feels like. So what is it about this movie that just transforms those gender roles?
Ms. Freeman: Well, first of all, Lloyd, as a character, is amazing. The way he keeps saying things like, “I don’t want to do anything, I just want to be with Diane. I’m good at it.” Hey, how many men around today would say that? [laughs]
Ms. Percy: It’s interesting that, I think, if a woman were to say that, she’d be a stalker or creepy or something just really undesirable.
Ms. Freeman: And there are elements of Lloyd — I mean there are times when you could say that the movie does err on that side of rom-coms; when what is excused as romantic behavior from a man in a rom-com is actually veering towards stalkerness. The famous scene when he’s holding up the boom box, underneath her window…
Ms. Percy: [laughs] True.
Ms. Freeman: …that would kind of creep you out, if some guy was underneath your window playing the music that you lost your virginity to with him. It’s kind of weird. But the movie rescues it from that, because — it rescues it from a lot of rom-com clichés in that, yes, Diane is the desired one, and he is chasing after her, but she’s not the unavailable bench like you get in a lot of movies. She’s not just this frigid cow who’s toying with him. You see exactly what’s going on: you see that her dad doesn’t want her to be with him; you see that she’s feeling very protective of her dad, because he’s going to prison, and she doesn’t really know what to do. So there is a reason that she’s pulling away from Lloyd, and I love that the movie explains that. It doesn’t just make her behave like the girl that Jeremy Piven, Lloyd’s friend, dismisses her as being — just being this bench, and he should just bang someone else and get over her.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Freeman: And for Lloyd, he’s not just this passive character. He’s doing stuff. He’s there, helping her. And he’s doing his kickboxing — “sport of the future,” as he calls it. But he knows it himself — he is a mediocre student. She is getting a Rhodes scholarship, or whatever fake name they give it in the movie, and she’s going off to Oxford. And he just wants to be with her and help her. And there are not many 18-year-old boys who have the ego to do that — and there aren’t many 38-year-old men, I can say from experience, who have the ego to do that, either. So it’s a really amazing movie, to girls, to say what they should expect from boys; they shouldn’t dumb themselves down. And he likes that she’s weird. He likes that she’s smart. He likes that she’s a bit goofy — just, clearly, lusts after her like crazy.
Why shouldn’t he get that girl? Why shouldn’t he get this amazing, beautiful girl who is so smart, who is very sweet and does see him for what he is. And just because she’s not gonna write 50 songs about him in the way Corey would, then — that doesn’t bother me. I don’t really see that the interesting people always have to get with the interesting people. I’m very good with interesting people getting with the alphas. That’s fine with me.
Ms. Percy: No, with Lloyd Dobler — so I think, one of the things that I have noticed — apart from being jealous, clearly, of Diane Court — is that scene where, at the end of their first date, when he points out the glass, the broken glass. I cannot tell you how often I’ve gone on a date, and it’s ended, and I’ve gone, “Well, this was a failure, because that didn’t happen. He didn’t act like Lloyd; he didn’t do this; he didn’t do that.” And I swear to God, I compare 40-year-old men to Lloyd Dobler, who is 19. [laughs]
Ms. Freeman: It’s hard not to. I know. And also, that bit when he’s bowing in the street — I love that.
Ms. Percy: So adorable.
Ms. Freeman: It’s so cute. [laughs] He’s so cute in it. And a lot of it is, obviously, John Cusack. John Cusack’s been in a lot of good films — Grifters and whatever; Grosse Point Blank. But this, to me, is just — he’s never better. And that’s the thing you should never say to an actor — that their best part was 30 years ago. But he takes those lines by Cameron Crowe and just gives them everything.
And that’s why, I think, really, it seems that he outshines Diane. I think it’s not fair for Ione Skye. How could she possibly compete with John Cusack’s rhythms and what he does to those lines? If Lili Taylor had played that role, it would’ve been a very different-feeling movie.
Ms. Percy: Very true. Very true. And what, ultimately, we need to remember is, Lloyd Dobler is fictional. We should not…
Ms. Freeman: No! [laughs]
Ms. Percy: …keep looking for him everywhere. He doesn’t exist.
Ms. Freeman: There’s a part of me that kind of thinks he’s Cameron Crowe, which I’ve really got to get over.
Ms. Percy: I think so too. I know.
Ms. Freeman: But how can you not? Cameron Crowe was something like 25 when he wrote the movie. It’s crazy. [laughs]
[excerpt: Say Anything]
Ms. Percy: One of the things that I love about this movie is how adult it feels by comparison to the John Hughes movies of that same era. And I think that’s why it’s still so powerful when I watch it now, at age 35. And I wonder, how has this movie changed for you as you’ve gotten older, the more you’ve watched it? How have you grown together?
Ms. Freeman: Well, it’s funny — with the John Hughes movies, I do still watch them, but I’m glad I watched them when I was young, because people who come to Ferris late always are like, “God, Ferris Bueller is such an annoying guy. Why does anybody care about him?” Whereas Say Anything, I think you’re right. You can watch that at any age. I still am stuck in Lloyd Dobler’s point of view; it’s very hard for me to get beyond that. But I am now more interested in the adults in the movie, which often happens. I’m interested — like that whole bit when she talks about how she had to choose which parent to go to, I find fascinating. And Cameron Crowe, obviously, found it fascinating too. He takes time to draw the father very carefully; and you get a sketch of the mother.
But, for me, it’s just more and more appreciation of the writing. I think the writing is incredible. [laughs] And that, I didn’t appreciate at the time. And now, to see how soulful and careful, and every line matters, is something I didn’t get before.
Ms. Percy: How deep the lines are; and sensitive, without being hokey. I’m always shocked by what they can carry.
Ms. Freeman: I know. I love that bit when they’re in the car, and they’ve just had sex. The one hokey bit is when Ione Skye tells him to listen to the Peter Gabriel song.
Ms. Percy: Oh, I get so annoyed in that scene.
Ms. Freeman: “It’s a really good song.”
Ms. Percy: I literally am like, “Shut the fork up.” [laughs]
Ms. Freeman: But I think — funny; I think that John Cusack actually pays homage to it in High Fidelity, because there’s that scene with Jack Black, when they’re in the store, and John Cusack is telling a customer, “You should listen to this song by The Beta Band. It’s a really good song.” I often wonder, is that actually a reference [laughs] to Diane telling him, “You should listen to Peter Gabriel”?
Ms. Percy: [laughs] I think it had to be intentional.
Ms. Freeman: Well, it kind of has to be, right? Because that’s such a weird thing to do in a movie — “Listen to the soundtrack. It’s good.” [laughs] It’s so funny.
Ms. Percy: [laughs] Oh, I love that.
Ms. Freeman: So, for me, it’s weird — I guess the fact that the movie hasn’t changed that much is a sign of how adult it is to me; whereas, now, when I look at John Hughes movies, I can see how ridiculously idealized they are. Ferris Bueller, particularly — the idea that kids would skip school, just to go to a museum and go to a fancy restaurant, is pretty hilarious; whereas, Say Anything, I’m still totally swept up in it, every single time.
[excerpt: Say Anything]
[music: “In Your Eyes,” by Peter Gabriel, from Say Anything: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
Ms. Percy: Hadley Freeman is a columnist and features writer for The Guardian. Go find her book, Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore). It’s full of Hadley’s love and knowledge of so many great ’80s films and, basically, makes you want to watch every single one.
Next time we’re going to be talking with lovely Dear Sugars’ Steve Almond about the movie that changed his life — Ordinary People. If you’ve never seen it, prepare yourself, you should probably have a box of tissues nearby because it’s quite a heartbreaker. It’s currently available on streaming: Amazon Video, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu — so you have two weeks to watch it.
This Movie Changed Me is produced by Maia Tarrell, Chris Heagle, Marie Sambilay, and Tony Liu, whose name I have been mispronouncing, embarrassingly, this entire time, and I sincerely apologize — and is an On Being Studios production. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts, and if you had fun listening today, leave us a review because it really makes a difference. I’m Lily Percy, now go back in time and watch an ’80s movie, you won’t regret it.