March 17, 2020 – Archie Borders

A million years ago, in the 1990’s, there were these things called newspapers and, while trying to get my filmmaking career going, I wrote for them. I wrote movie reviews, profiles of artists, an occasional lifestyle piece, whatever was needed. The Courier Journal (which was still a bustling, energetic place filled with great talent like Roger Fristoe, Bob Hill, Ronni Lundy, Nick Anderson, and Rob King) was a client, and it had an actual, local arts section. Additionally, I wrote for a snarky upstart “alternative” newsweekly called the Louisville Eccentric Observer, or “LEO,” run by some guy named John Yarmuth. This ragtag paper was effective in filling in the lack of local voices after the Courier Journal (under the direction of the Gannett Corporation) decided that an arts staff was simply too much of a luxury to keep around. So they dumped us freelancers and went with mostly syndicated national arts columnists. 

I often wonder whatever became of the golf-obsessed Mr. Yarmuth. I hope he found something meaningful to do with his time. 

While producing movies and media became the focus of my professional life, it necessitated that I stopped writing articles about movies and instead, started to make a few. My time writing movie reviews was over. 

Until now, that is. And for that, we can thank, or be angry with, the Coronavirus. 

This past weekend, my wife Anne and our two at-home teenagers, allowed me to recommend some movies. And, as we’re all hunkering down to socially distance ourselves, I thought maybe I could share of few of my thoughts and observations given their reactions. And, because all four of my kids have had to, throughout the years, listen to me pontificate about films and filmmakers and who they are and what they do, why not give our 180 audience something to ponder? 

So that’s what I’ll do so in this space for the next few weeks. And please forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. 

“So that where that’s from.”

Our teenager Jack had just watched the scene from “Say Anything” where John Cusack holds his boom box above his head in order to, (it’s a little confusing, to be honest) woo back or serenade or something to an in-her-home-resting-in-her-bed Ione Skye after her character has broken up with him. It’s a great image, but it’s the great lines that really resonate in this ode to teenage love from writer-director Cameron Crowe. 

“The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.”
Diane: “Nobody thinks it will work, do they?
Lloyd: “No. You just described every great success story.”

And, of course, 

“I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.57.25 PM

“Say Anything” works on a number of levels and while it functions mainly as a beautifully written teenage romance, there are the usual number of genre tropes that are instantly recognizable. There’s the obligatory but perfectly executed, working-up-the-nerve-to-make-the-call-to-ask-for-a-date scene (which was cringe worthy enough to have 16 year old Jack pull his sweatshirt over his head) and the in-every-single-high-school-movie-ever-made graduation party scene, which was appropriately (but accurately) dated by having a high school teacher, played by a pre-“Frasier” Bebe Neuwirth, show up and hang out (and presumably, drink with) the students at the annual high school melee. 

Ah, simpler, less litigious, times. 

But where “Say Anything” really distinguishes itself as a film are in the little moments, bits that are true and real-world observational. “You’re shaking,” Ione tells John during their (also obligatory in a high school movie) back seat encounter scene, but the moment lingers and becomes sweeter because it’s not smooth or cool or awesome. It’s tender and real. 

The same for John’s scenes with sister Joan Cusack, who plays a single, working Mom (when I pointed out that Joan Cusack was the principle in “School of Rock” Jack’s mouth hit the floor) worried about her kid and trying to maintain her sense of self while everyone else is trying to discover their own. But the biggest surprise comes from the main, secondary subplot, that of Diane Cort and her father, Jim (played by yet another “Frasier” alum, John Mahoney). That subplot, one very different from most ‘teen’ movies, deals with a parent who has managed to rationalize embezzlement for their child’s benefit, and it is unrepentantly grown up and deflating. And watching it now and being roughly John Mahoney’s age when he filmed this… gives the scenes a level of desperate poignancy that’s heartbreaking. 

There’s much more; Lili Taylor as the best musical friend (“I’ve written 65 songs, and they’re all about Joe”) every teenager should have, a note-perfect ending with a great black out to credits, and one more great quote that should be de rigueur for all ‘you don’t know anything about me” high schoolers: 

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.  I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.  You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

I’d love to know how that worked out for Lloyd Dobler. 

And finally, there’s the boombox scene. With Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” blasting overhead as a callback to the backseat scene, Lloyd Dobler and John Cusack enter iconic cinema status, with an all out visual plea for acknowledgement that transcends narrative and reaches across decades to find and land squarely on a 16 year old viewer… one who hopefully realizes that an earlier generation may actually understand something about what their teenager may be going through.  

So, yes, that’s where that image is from