A Dare to be Great Situation
(This marks the beginning of our 80s week, where -- over the next three days -- each of the site's critics will post reviews or commentary on notable 80's films, as we did in previous years for the 50s, 60s, and 70s.)
We often cry out for the good ole' days, when movies were better than they are now. But most of that is simple generational discrimination and selective blindness. You can look at any era and find as many bad movies then as there are now. It's just that our memories of the bad and forgettable have faded, while the gems cling desperately to our collective consciousness.
But where it concerns romantic comedies, it is absolutely true. They don't make 'em like they used to. When is the last time you saw a studio romantic comedy that was not premised on a high concept? That didn't involved a contrived misunderstanding? Where one of the romantic partners didn't have a secret they were keeping? That didn't involve an insufferable meet cute? That felt organic and real, like the characters were based on actual people and not pulled from a studio formula? When is the last romantic comedy you could quote? More than once? Today, romantic comedies would rather sacrifice romance for a cheap laugh that will look good in the trailer than build an actual relationship based on two likable characters with convincing chemistry.
Cameron Crowe's 1989 film, Say Anything was, at its core, about two good people who fell in love. Not in any sort of contrived way, but in the way that real people fall in love: By spending time together, by getting to know one another, and by realizing that you are meant to be together. Lloyd Dobler nervously calls Diane Court on the phone. They go to a party together. He comes over for dinner to meet her Dad. He teacher her how to drive. They spend time with one another. They fall deeply in love. They (presumably) live happily ever after. The end.
There are, of course, circumstances that threaten to pull them apart, but they are not of their own making. They arise out of a desire to be better people. It is not a case of the lesser of two evils, or of mistaken identity, of an elaborate misunderstanding, or of accidental pregnancy. In the end, it's a case of choosing great over good.
Much has been written over the years since the release of Say Anything about how Lloyd Dobler has been educational in helping to inform women about what they want in a man -- about the "Myth of Lloyd Dobbler." A lot of theories have been posited about what makes Lloyd Dobbler the ideal, about how women have been trying ever since to find that sweet, sensitive, geeky kick-boxing Prince Charming. (Just as many cracks have been made about how Dobler might be considered a stalker today, ironic in the sense that we allow every minute detail of our lives to be followed on Twitter or Facebook -- sometimes, it's like we're begging to be stalked). Chuck Klosterman has suggested that Lloyd Dobbler doesn't actually exist (hence, the "myth"), and that no man could possibly live up to that ideal.
With all due respect to Klosterman's quasi-pop psychology: He's flat-out fucking wrong. Because you don't have to look like Lloyd Dobler to attain that ideal. You don't have to be that sweet, sensitive anti-consumerist stammering guy who cries on a pay phone. Who exposes his vulnerability by shivering after sex. It's not Dobler's vulnerability that makes him so attractive. What makes Lloyd Dobler ideal is something that almost any man can attain. Women aren't looking for "Lloyd Dobler." They're looking for someone who can love them in the right way. Lloyd Dobler isn't a myth; he's a man, like so many of us, who loves women. It's not as common as you think, but neither is it mythically rare.
What's not been written as much about Say Anything is how it's informed men of a certain generation, and maybe even subsequent ones. It's not that those of us of a certain age wanted to emulate Dobler, and it's not that we believed that we could get more ladies by affecting a sensitive, nice-guy attitude (although, it has crossed our minds). What it did for many of us was to give us a sense of boundless romantic optimism. It instilled in us a belief that anything was possible. That we could wake up and begin our assault on the world. That we were Icemen. That we could achieve that dare to be great situation. That we could be in a good mood, goddamnit, by deciding to be in a good mood (is that so hard?).
Lloyd Dobler has stuck with me over the years, through my teens and twenties, and into marriage, adulthood, and even parenting. My wife: She's a worrisome individual, often terrified that if we say the wrong thing, buy him the wrong toys, or expose him to the wrong television shows, that our son will become some sort of evangelical, right-wing psychopath who will butcher kittens. Whenever one of these concerns arise, I always think of Dobler, of Say Anything, and of the essence of that movie: Be a good person. If you can do that, the rest will take care of itself.
There is a scene in Say Anything that speaks to me more than any other, and it's probably a throw-away scene. Mike Cameron (played by Jason Gould, son of Barbara Streisand) asks Lloyd Dobler, "How come it worked. I mean, like, what are you?" And Lloyd answers, "I'm Lloyd Dobler."
That's it. For so many of us, that's the message of Say Anything. "I'm Lloyd Dobler." Anyone can be Lloyd Dobler. Because Lloyd Dobler isn't a face; he isn't a set of mannerisms; he isn't an ethos. He's an average guy. But he's an average guy who knows how to love women in the right way. Be her friend (with potential). If you can do that, the rest will take care of itself.