Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of one of my very favorite John Cusack movies and one of my most beloved movies ever—The Sure Thing. As Walter “Gib” Gibson, Cusack personified that endearingly goofy quality that would define his early work and the relationship goals for way too many of us, a quality that stands out so starkly against his latter-day efforts.
The fact is most actors cannot sustain the same success experienced at their peak—that’s why it’s a peak. But there’s something about Cusack we take to heart. We actively lament his questionable choices and celebrate the good ones as though we had personal stake in them.
So, with Gib in our hearts and these movies not remotely on our minds, let’s talk Cusack: the good, the bad, the…the… Well, we’ll just start there.
In the ’80s, Cusack was seminal. He was a formative human for a lot of us. The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, Say Anything, my god, man. If tiny baby twentysomething John Cusack came knocking today, so would my thighs.
Even I don’t entirely know what I mean by that but I’m pretty sure it’s sexual. There was something real about this person, something attainable, which is insane because he was like this human amalgam of what we think should be attainable and real but really isn’t because it was fictitious.
I totally would, John Cusack! Even though logically I know that what I appreciate about you is acting, performance, pretending, and the rest of it is written by other people. But then he started writing for himself, and it made things so much worse, because that made it feasible. The movies and characters he was writing were as endearing and interesting as ever. Le sigh.
And then…something shifted. The movies got worse, the choices got unfathomable.
I mean, they’re just movies. They’re just work. We should be glad any actor we like is able to sustain working at all. But that’s the thing about movies—they matter to us.
And it really is sad. Because this is someone who clearly sees himself as an artist, who would appear to be above his own choices. And he has to see what we say about those choices.
Some of them have been calculated risks. But some could not possibly be anything but sheer blatant money grabs. So, is it possible to return to form? What he had, that magic, is it gone? Can he get it back?
The films he’s made in the last 10 years, the choices. They’ve been painful. Watching this descent into Nicolas Cage-dom, it’s been tragic. Is it the availability of work? Is it money? Or is he just over it?
Dude, it’s not that bad. But it’s definitely been questionable.
We don’t know. I wonder if he knows.
I hope it’s as simple as a lack of inspiration, working for the sake of work while recalibrating. Because other actors just couldn’t, just can’t give us what he could and can.
It’s him. It was always him. And that ultimately is what makes Cusack so personal for all of us. Even when we don’t understand his film choices, he continues to have this presence, this power that we never stop appreciating.
So, it’s OK, John Cusack. Maybe you’re not Gib anymore. Maybe you’re not Lloyd Dobler. Maybe it was always unfair of us to assume you were or should be. But you’re you. You’re talented, you’re able, and you’re at a career crossroads. You’re faced with a dare-to-be-great situation. And we’re ready.