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Say Anything... (DVD)

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Cameron Crowe's romantic comedy Say Anything… is one of those unassuming classics, like Groundhog Day or The Shawshank Redemption, that sneaked into the pantheon of beloved mainstream movies almost without remark. The film met with moderate commercial success and good critical notices upon its release in 1989, and when it hit home video, it became a favorite of sophisticated older teens, who identified with its depiction of young love and the more painful moments that faced up to the loss of youthful illusions. Those teens grew up, and as they saw how real-life dilemmas were driven by the subtle questions of integrity and trust that Crowe dramatized, Say Anything… grew in stature, even landing atop an Entertainment Weekly list of the greatest modern movie romances. That level of adulation is well-explained by a new DVD edition of the film. Say Anything… holds up as a sensitive teen picture, an actors' showcase, and a warm introduction to the worldview of then-novice writer-director Crowe, whose subsequent filmography (the honorable misfire Vanilla Sky aside) has extended his mastery of humane storytelling with the polish of old-school Hollywood entertainment. Crowe's characters tend to be likable, and none are more likable than John Cusack's unaffected high-school kickboxer, dedicated to the wooing of shy valedictorian Ione Skye. On the DVD commentary track, the writer-director describes his lead as representing "optimism as a revolutionary act," and he and Cusack explain the process by which the two realized that "upbeat" could be played without a plastered grin. The moodiness behind Cusack's can-do spirit is what makes his character so charming, and what makes the film's boy-meets/loses/regains-girl plot arc so real. Also on the commentary—which is so involved that it starts 20 minutes before the film begins—Crowe, Cusack, and Skye talk about the challenges of creating a feeling of enhanced naturalism, and all three praise the performance of John Mahoney as Skye's oily but well-meaning father, an ambitious nursing-home owner whose attempts to improve his daughter's lot end up creating a crisis in her life. Mahoney's situational morality and Cusack's decency provide the poles that tug at Skye, who, like most people, is torn by family responsibility and the need to be her own person. Perhaps Say Anything… endures because audiences continue to appreciate the way Crowe resolves his character's seemingly impossible problems, in a finale that's both hard and sweet.