“Nobody thought we’d do this. Nobody really thinks it’s going to work, do they?”
“No. You just described every great success story. Alright, it’s alright.”
“I know. Where’s the ding?”
“It’s coming… any second now… any second now.”
My copy of Say Anything… is probably somewhere on the east coast. If I am incredibly lucky, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere in suburbia and serving as an occasional reminder of a relationship with all the potential in the world that, ultimately, went nowhere.
But I digress.
As a younger man, Say Anything… had a profound effect on me: to say I was overwhelmed with romantic optimism would be an understatement. And I don’t mean “romantic” just as it relates to love and love alone–I wanted to embody the romanticism of Lloyd Dobbler. Fortunately, I was never a strong kickboxer. But I wanted a dare-to-be-great situation and I really liked Peter Gabriel’s music. Close enough. Say Anything…was one case of encountering the exact right film and the exact right time. The problem with finding the perfect film for a moment of your life is just that–it’s perfect for that moment and that moment alone. As the years pass, I’ve grown disenchanted with this movie; I still love it and keep it in regular rewatch rotation, but I’m no longer in love with it.
“Lloyd, can you pick up your boxing gloves. They don’t go in the kitchen.”
“Just like all your books everywhere?”
What I’ve come to understand is that these characters–particularly Lloyd Dobbler and Diane Court–is that they’re not people. They don’t really exist, and not just because they’re fictional. They’re both ideas instead of human beings. I don’t believe either character is perfect; quite the opposite, in fact. Lloyd has no clue–or interest–about the future and Diane is equally clueless when it comes to interacting with people. As imperfect as they are, both still shine brighter than most.
“You ever miss anyone?”
“Corey and D.C., I guess. And my sister.”
“All girls. Hmm. Well, I miss my dad.”
“Only eighteen more months.”
Diane is an academic superstar beauty queen philosopher growing up and enduring a family crisis. Lloyd is a slacker who loves kickboxing and…well, that’s about it. She grew up as a child of divorce in an upper-class home. His career-military parents are in Germany, so he lives with his single-mother sister and her son in an apartment with thin walls. Stripped down to their basic attributes, this situation resembles a sitcom more than a romcom.
And in that sense, Lloyd Dobbler lives on. The archetype of the loveable slacker has permeated popular culture as both lead and as sidekick. Jim Halpert. Shawn Spencer. Zack Morris. Uncle Joey. Morgan Grimes. Shawn Hunter. Over and over, audiences encounter incarnations of Lloyd Dobbler. He wasn’t the first loveable slacker (I’d argue for Dobbie Gillis for that honor), but he concretized the idea into how we know it now. Lloyd became the platonic ideal of a “good guy” for an entire generation of men. This was not a disservice; there are certainly far worse role models in the world.
Diane Court has her own future appearances: Elliot Reed. Sheldon Cooper. Frasier. Felicity Smoke. It’s not surprising that I lusted after Elliot Reed for years until I realized that only the more disappointing endings in My Cold Shower would fit. Still, who wouldn’t want the brain-trapped-in-the-body-of-a-game-show-host? Even now, in the final moments of the film, as Lloyd and Diane shake with the turbulence, I wanted to comfort her, too. They kiss, the light dings, and the credits roll.
And we know that somehow, they make it. And for a while, I believed it. I wish I could still believed it.
“Just say something, Lloyd.”
“This was a mistake.”
“Don’t say that.”
The danger in falling in love with Say Anything… is that the film is technically about adults. It’s easy to watch a production of Romeo and Juliet and realize how insane these characters must be–after all, the titular characters are fourteen years old. Granted, I laughed quietly at the word “titular,” so perhaps I’m not a world class expert on maturity. Still, Romeo and Juliet presents a set of reasonably outlandish results–for teenagers. Say Anything… involves two characters who are in their late teens–high school graduates–and are, legally, adults. For anyone with a inch of perspective, this is a nebulous time in a life. To paraphrase Alice Cooper, Lloyd isn’t a boy but isn’t a man. Diane isn’t a girl and isn’t a woman. They’re really kids, even if they’re not. By the end of the film, audiences are obsessively devoted to an idea instead of reality. Historically, this sort of thing has never ended well. But we are lead to believe that this will be the exception–that they are the exception. Exceptional people at an exceptional moment taking an exceptional risk. Of course they’ll make it. Right?
To me, the legacy of Say Anything… is a lot like the legacy of The Catcher in the Rye. I found this film just like I found this book–at just the right time. But as the years passed, I realized that both had faded like an old photograph. The affinity and kinship I felt with these characters had worn thinner and thinner until I realized that they had become a part of who I am, now, but neither determines who I will become. Once, they did. And although I wish it was easy to believe in the overwhelming and undying love found by the young–that love which Say Anything… captures so readily–I find solace in the fact that I still want to believe. Part of me still idolizes Lloyd Dobbler and loves Diane Court. I know they’re not real. I know that if they were, then six months down the line, they probably broke up. But it never stops me from hoping that one day I’ll be wrong about all of it.
“You ever think about Diane?”
“Not for a long time, Corey. How’s the song coming?”
“It’s hard to write when I’m happy.”