Valentine’s Day. A manufactured holiday meant to help sell cards, chocolates and flowers. But I’m not entirely cynical. It’s also an excuse to reflect on young love, first dates, soul mates and, yes, broken hearts.
My boys, who turn 8 and 4 this week, aren’t there yet. Thank God. But when they start falling for all the pretty girls, Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything
is one of the first movies I’ll share with them.
With its heart hanging out on the sleeve of its trench coat, Crowe’s romantic drama captures the enthusiastic excitement of a new relationship, the obstacles we overcome to be with an unlikely partner, and the pain that can be caused by a break up. Crowe went on to write some unforgettably romantic scenes in later films, but few served as an unabashed Valentine to the idea of falling in love the way Say Anything did (and still does).
So, with Valentine’s Day on everyone’s mind, let’s ask out the Valedictorian, rent Cocoon for the senior citizens, write 65 sad songs about Joe, hold our boom boxes over our heads and figure out when you can watch Say Anything with your kids.
Green Lights: “This is great. This gives me hope. Thanks!”
By all accounts, Diane Court (Ione Skye) had the perfect life. Great grades. A supportive father (John Mahoney). The brightest possible future. There existed a tiny hole in her soul, though. It was shaped like Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack).
“In your eyes, I am complete,” Peter Gabriel sings, summarizing the head-over-heels emotions that flow like a river through Crowe’s debut film. And Say Anything really stands as a blueprint for how kids and parents can handle the obstacles that come with first loves … and handle them together, with faith, hope and trust in one another.
There are so many conversation starters for parents to engage in with their kids. Diane, at the end of her high-school career, thinks that she missed a golden opportunity to bond with her classmates. Her father’s so concerned with providing for her that he doesn’t realize he’s pushing her away. And Lloyd, looking for “a dare-to-be-great situation,” swings for the fences by asking out a girl (THE girl) who happens to be out of his league.
Have you raised a Diane? Are you lucky enough to have a Lloyd? Are your kids interested in dating either of these headstrong personalities?
Say Anything isn’t easy. When is love ever easy, though? I think you’ll know when your kids are ready for Crowe’s tender drama. Probably because you’ll see you’re your own children reflected in Lloyd’s enthusiasm as he slams down the phone after Diane agrees to go out with him … or in Diane’s skepticism when she looks at her yearbook to see what she just signed up for. You’ll notice them writing love letters. You’ll hear them making mix tapes.
You might want to advise them to invest in a boom box … and never, ever give their newfound crush a pen.
Red Flags: “I want to get hurt!”
And they all will get hurt at some point, won’t they? No matter how badly we might want to protect our kids from heartache, someone’s bound to shatter their heart the way Diane eventually crushed Lloyd’s. Cameron also briefly touched on unhealthy obsession in Lili Taylor’s hurtful relationship with Joe (Loren Dean), the self-centered idiot who doesn’t realize how lucky he’d be to have her. But the story fades. A different relationship for a different movie.
Revisiting Say Anything, I was surprised at how mild it is. The language isn’t overly offensive. It takes its puppy-dog-cute sensibilities from the adorably sweet Cusack. He’s so embraceable in this movie, it’s no wonder Lloyd Dobler stuck to him over the years despite a streak of memorable performances in outstanding films like The Grifters, Bullets Over Broadway, Grosse Pointe Blank, Pushing Tin and Being John Malkovich.
That’s not to say that Say Anything is as safe as a TV movie of the week. Crowe does let his characters lose their virginity, though not without strong consideration on Diane’s part for her actions.
And then there’s Mahoney, the proud parent who describes his daughter’s ascension through society’s ranks as a pyramid of success. Even Lloyd has to acknowledge how close Diane is with her father, which makes for a healthy subplot … until we learn that he’s bilking senior citizens out of their retirement monies, much to the chagrin of the IRS. But that’s a screenwriters device, to added some needed drama to an otherwise simple romance.
Is it necessary? Probably not. There’s plenty of tension in Say Anything, so long as you know where to look. Lloyd’s consistently facing pressure from outsiders to figure out what he’s going to do next (when all he wants to do is hang out with Diane). As for Diane, she’s under incredible pressure to live up the standards she, herself, has set. There’s also a moment late in the movie when Mahoney realizes he has lost his baby girl, possibly forever. For a parent, it’s devastating.
Kids won’t notice, unless they are of a certain age. Which is why I’d estimate that the best time to watch Say Anything with your kids is …
The best time to watch Say Anything with your kids is when they’ve turned 13 or 14.
The content isn’t offensive. In fact, it’s normally pretty tame. Even the film’s lone sex scene is intimate, not passionate. The language stays safe, and the messages are tender and heartfelt.
But kids younger than 13 probably won’t be that interested in the intoxicating spell of first love that Cameron Crowe and his cast weaves. Hold on to Say Anything until their ready, because once they’ve figured out those feelings, it’s bound to have an intensely beautiful impact.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.