Say Anything… (1989)

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back again. This formula for a romantic comedy is all right when all you want to do is pass the time watching a mildly amusing movie. But when it is one of the movies listed in Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See before You Die, you expect a little more. I suspect it is the fact that Cameron Crowe wrote and directed Say Anything… that mesmerized critics into thinking it was something special.

In addition to the formula noted above, this movie also employs the standard Hollywood device of having a woman be forced to make a choice between love and something else, and then when she chooses love, as the formula requires, she ends up getting the something else too. Usually, the woman’s choice is between a boring but respectable man of whom her family approves and who will be able to provide for her in comfort, and a charming man that she loves but who is poor and irresponsible. But when she decides to marry the poor guy, it turns out that he actually has lots of money. The movie French Kiss (1995) would be an example of this.

In this movie, the woman is Diane (Ione Skye), and she herself is the boring but respectable person of whom her father, Mr. Court (John Mahoney), approves and who will be able to provide for herself in comfort owing to the fact that she is on her way to having a successful career after she gets out of college. This constitutes a slight variation in the formula. In any event, she must choose between her own education/career and Lloyd (John Cusack), the poor and irresponsible guy she loves whose idea of a career is that of being a kickboxer. Of course, there are movies in which a woman must choose between a career and a husband, but it is usually a glamorous career like show business, as in Imitation of Life (1959), not the kind of respectable career that Diane is pursuing.

Actually, Lloyd’s charm wears a little thin. He is living with his sister, who is a single mom, and he gets on her nerves with his antics. She makes a mark for the volume knob on his boom box, beyond which level he must not go, because it disturbs the neighbors. But he apparently does not care about that, because later in the movie, he takes the boom box and plays his and Diane’s song at volume ten near her house in the middle of the night to prove his love for her, probably waking up all the neighbors on the block. It is one thing to be irresponsible. It is another thing to be an inconsiderate jerk. One wonders just how long Diane is going to put up with him, especially since his plan seems to be to just let her support him, as when he tells her father, “What I want to do for a living is be with your daughter.” I guess you could say that in this movie it is the man who chooses between having a glamorous career like kickboxing and just being a house husband.

Presumably, as a way of avoiding the obvious formulaic nature of this film, a little trouble for Mr. Court with the Internal Revenue Service is thrown in. It begins rather melodramatically, with a couple of IRS agents showing up at his house at night. In real life, an auditor would begin his investigation by showing up at Court’s place of business, which is a nursing home, and asking to see the books. In a subsequent scene, an IRS agent does show up at the nursing home and asks ominous questions like, “Your income, Mr. Court, hasn’t changed substantially in seventeen years…. Why would you stay so long with an operation that is clearly not a growth enterprise?” Wow! Isn’t that incriminating!

By this time, we are starting to think that the IRS agents are absurd caricatures, and that Court will be vindicated in the end. But it turns out that Court really is guilty. However, if he has been stealing money from his patients, then it would seem he is in more trouble than just not paying his taxes. There should still be fraud charges to deal with. But the movie glosses over that.

Once we accept that Court is guilty of defrauding his nursing home patients and then not paying taxes on what he stole from them, there are further incongruities. For example, Court goes to a store to buy some luggage, but all his credit cards are rejected. At the same time, Diane discovers thousands of dollars in cash squirreled away in a drawer. So, why didn’t Court use the cash to buy the luggage? Cash leaves no tracks, and even the IRS would not have been aware of that purchase.

Beyond that, the movie seems to at first to suggest that Court was stealing all that money in order to provide for his daughter, and so we are supposed to like him for that. But then it turns out that he was using all of his ill-gotten gains to buy collectibles, like a nine thousand dollar juke box. In other words, he’s an idiot. The function of this IRS subplot is to break the excessive attachment between father and daughter so that she is free to leave him for Lloyd. But calling in the Feds so that a girl can leave home and marry the boy she loves is a bit much.

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