Sunday, September 6, 2015

John Mahoney's contextual 2's, and other Say Anything thoughts

It had been entirely too long since I'd seen Say Anything.

I mean, entirely too long. Like, ENTIRELY. There's good reason to think that it had been a full 20 years since my last viewing. I know we watched it a couple times in its first few years of existence, enough to etch it into my personality, but I can't think of a situation that would have arisen since the mid-1990s when I would have seen it.

Yet as with my recent revisiting of Star Wars for the first time in nearly that long, it felt like it was just yesterday for how well I remembered it. But the viewing almost didn't happen.

See, Say Anything was the last movie to make the cut on my Father's Day hotel visit. That's right, for this Father's Day -- Father's Day is in September in Australia -- I revived a tradition from my early days as a father, when both my wife and I would take an occasional night off to go to a hotel by ourselves. She did whatever she did, I don't know. Me? I always watched movies. Like, a marathon of movies, with the assistance of a projector. Find the cheapest hotel room I can find, and just go crazy.

But neither of us had done this since we'd come to Australia, despite needing it again with another young child in the house. And our 20-month-old has been sleeping especially badly in the past two weeks, so Father's Day, and the revival of the tradition, couldn't have been better timed.

The circumstances were a bit different this time around, though. In the past, I'd brought literally as many as 20 movies on DVD with me, knowing that I'd only get through a quarter of them. Nowadays, though, the DVD player in my laptop is broken. So that meant my movies had to be rentals from iTunes, and I couldn't be so profligate with my choices.

It also meant a lesser reliance on old favorites that I owned than usual. See, when you can get movies for free from your collection or from the library, you don't worry so much about what you'll be watching or not watching. When you are watching them in digital form, though, you have to be more picky. I have yet to amass a large digital collection -- or really, any digital collection -- so I knew that rentals would make up the entirety of my viewing. (I had heard tell of wifi at this hotel, but I couldn't rely on it being good, or even working at all.) And when you're renting something, you tend to skew toward movies you haven't seen.

But I didn't want to watch entirely new-to-me movies, so I thought this also made a good opportunity to revisit favorites that I hadn't seen in ages. I'd lined up both Fight Club and Rear Window, watching the former but not the latter. About a day before I was set to leave, I hastily added Say Anything to the list.

See, whatever I may watch on the first day -- and this time it was Kingsman: The Secret Service, The DUFF, Fight Club and Martyrs -- the morning viewing before checkout has very specific requirements. It needs to be something essentially light and fun, which does not mean it must be devoid of substance, and always something I hold near and dear to my heart. Past choices for this programming slot have included Almost Famous, This is Spinal Tap, Raising Arizona and The Cable Guy. Say Anything fit the bill perfectly, and slightly better than the movie it replaced, Rear Window, which probably deserves a nighttime viewing when I do get around to it.

And boy, how glad was I to see Say Anything again. So glad, in fact, that I still feel a bit giddy about it, seven hours after the viewing finished. (The only bummer about my hotel stay: A few hours before leaving I discovered our projector wasn't working, so I had to just watch things straight from my laptop.)

From very early on in my viewing of Say Anything, I knew I was going to write this post, so then I started taking notes -- and took so many notes that I'm going to resort to list form just to get them all out.

But first, an explanation of what the subject of this post means.

When Lloyd (Cusack) gives his phone number to Jim Court (John Mahoney), Diane's dad, I happened to notice that it was, not surprisingly, a 555 number. That's an old cinematic trick that I've discussed on this blog before. For some reason I noticed the whole number, including the last four digits that shouldn't matter: 1342. So it was with a bit of alarm that I noticed, a few scenes later, that Jim had written down the number incorrectly on the pad, either as a transcription mistake or an act of paternal sabotage. See here:

Although Jim appears to have written the accompanying note honestly -- "Sat together at Bell Square" -- he also appears to have written down 2342, not 1342. 

But wait, is that a 1 or a 2?

If it's a 1, it's a pretty goofy 1. The line coming out of the top is too long, and the "main shaft" of the 1 doesn't properly bisect the bottom line as it should, landing on the left, as a 2 would traditionally do. 

However, Mahoney makes his 2's as cursive capital Q's, doesn't he? Just look at the 2 at the end of the number, which is definitively a 2. It's got the loop in it, indicating a 2. So the first number has to be a 1 ... right?

Not so fast. Look down to the message from the next suitor, "Richard." The first digit in his phone number is, undoubtedly, a 2 ... but it's not the cursive capital Q he made on the line above. Mahoney makes two 2's that way in his number, which begins with 232. (And why does Lloyd have a 555 number while this "Richard" character gets to have a realistic 232 number? Is it the difference between the number being spoken and being written? It's like mixing reality and fantasy on one notepad.)

So my only conclusion is that Mahoney -- and I say it's Mahoney, because I have no reason to think that they wouldn't just have the actor do his own stunt-writing -- only writes his 2's as a cursive capital Q when he needs to specifically distinguish them from his 1's. That's right, the way Mahoney writes a 2 is entirely contextual.

In any case, Diane successfully gets through to Lloyd, so the right number was successfully communicated to her, whether it was successfully recorded or not. 

Okay, on to things about this movie that actually matter, in more or less chronological order:

1) I love the fact that we never see Diane's and Lloyd's "first date." It is alluded to, an instance of sitting together while eating in the mall. But it is never visualized. I can't imagine a movie made today not including that scene. As is, it leaves us to wonder at how the situation actually transpired, and whether it involved any reciprocity whatsoever on Diane's part. I love that that mystery exists.

2) I didn't realize until this viewing that the guy who sings "The Greatest Love of All" at graduation is Joe. As in, Corey's Joe. "Joe Lies" Joe. I thought it was just some random guy. 

3) Pamela Adlon is in this movie! As in, Louie C.K.'s Pamela Adlon. She's Lloyd's lesser seen third female friend. 

4) Speaking of Corey and Joe, it seems funny that they were ever together in the first place. Whether intentionally exploding stereotypes or just being unrealistic, Say Anything paired them despite their different backgrounds. Corey should be a "weirdo," as in she doesn't have the type of filter that would prevent her from singing angry songs about her ex-boyfriend at a party. Joe is the ham who sings "The Greatest Love of All" at graduation and also kind of looks like he might have been on the football team. In this strange universe, they were together.

5) Speaking of high schoolers, I couldn't help pair this with my viewing of The DUFF the day before to arrive at a funny realization about why the girls at the Catholic high school next door to my house look so young: The movies are not giving us an accurate representation of what high schoolers look like. Most actors in movies about high school are in their mid- to late-20s. Actually, Say Anything does pretty well, with Cusack being the oldest in 1989 at age 23. (Whereas The DUFF's Mae Whitman is 27.) Still, it's not much of a surprise that I thought that the school next door to me didn't have anyone older than 10th grade. 

6) I own the soundtrack to Say Anything, but many of the songs are barely audible in the film. That's because a couple of the songs -- specifically, Depeche Mode's "Stripped" and Joe Satriani's "One Big Rush" -- are heard only in the very, very distance at the graduation party. The soundtrack to Say Anything is composed entirely of diagetic music, or music emanating from an actual source that the characters can hear, and so to get a full soundtrack of ten tracks, some songs that are barely even in the movie have to make it on the soundtrack. It's an unlikely choice especially for Cameron Crowe, who would come to be defined by how he used music in his movies. (The only exception is Nancy Wilson's "All for Love," which plays over the closing credits.)

7) I love how unconcerned Jim Court is over the fact that his daughter doesn't return from the graduation party until it is well and fully daylight. "Hi honey" he says with a big smile when she comes in. Even if they have a good and open relationship, this is very permissive behavior for a parent, especially by movie standards. Of course, we see the reverse later on when she stays out with Lloyd without checking in, but this first moment is very refreshing. 

8) Another example of this film's subtlety is its restraint in showing us Lloys'd reaction to his night with Diane. Instead of seeing him doing his bows and blowing his kisses up close, we see it only from the perspective of Diane and her dad in the house. This contrasts with The DUFF as well in a moment in which Whitman's character is shown with her arms outstretched and fireworks going off next to her, in a similar moment of courtship-related victory. It's in your face, while in Say Anything, it's just a stolen moment.

9) Diane asks Lloyd for advice on which dress to wear out on their second date. (Or third, depending on whether you count the mall one.) It's cute, and indicates their immediate comfort with one another. (This scene also has a really nice moment where only her mouth is visible through the crack in the doorway, yet we can make out her facial expressions as she talks.)

10) Lloyd has an interesting moment at dinner after observing the close relationship between Diane and her father. "I'm just like that with - I'm not even like that with anybody," he says. What was he going to say originally? We don't know much about his parents. Could this be a reference to the close relationship he used to have with his sister? It's interesting how little they go to Joan Cusack in this movie, so little that she isn't even credited, and yet I remembered clearly that scene where Lloyd talks about how she used to be fun. It's embedded in there, but it doesn't have to be in our face like it might be in a different film. 

11) Speaking of strained family relationships, I really felt for Diane's mom in that scene where Diane asks her to intervene positively with the investigation into her ex-husband. What happened with Diane's mom? We never know, but we also know that Diane shrinks away from the idea of moving back home with her. Something between them seems to be Diane accusing her mom: "You know what you did." We don't know, and Say Anything refreshingly does not feel the need to tell us.

12) The ageism bit. It's interesting that during what is supposed to be the happy ascension of their relationship, Diane gets mad at Lloyd because he says he's grossed out by old people eating. Nowadays, neither would this scene be included nor would Lloyd actually say something like that, as it would be considered too big of a negative to hang on your protagonist. At the time, it was just another wrinkle of realism in the development of their relationship. I remember this moment always concerning me because I thought it was going to derail things for them. That's how effortlessly Crowe has gotten us to care about these people. 

13) Lloyd's clueless introduction of Cocoon: "It's about a group of older people who go to outer space. I hope I didn't give anything away there." Oh, it's only the very last thing that occurs in that movie. Too funny. 

14) There's a point where Diane asks Lloyd if he knows what she means. Lloyd says "No." That's not really realistic -- almost any time anyone has ever asked me if I knew what they meant, I have always said I did, if not to put them at ease, then to hide my own stupidity. But I like what it says about the honesty these two have between them, and how it contributes to the larger way this film gets at communication, even down to its very title. 

15) Diane has a state of the union with Lloyd in which she changes their status to friends, though he adjusts it to "friends with potential." In the very next scene, they end up kissing in the car while he is trying to teach her how to drive stick. It's not even acknowledged that she is so directly failing in a pledge she only just made to keep things more casual. One thing I love about this kiss is that Diane, the driver, is so engrossed in it that she doesn't even notice the car rolling forward. Lloyd, whose head is supposed to be more in the clouds over her than vice versa, has to snap to attention and pull the emergency brake.

16) There is no need for a flashback when Diane tells her dad the story about Lloyd kicking the glass out of her way in the convenience store parking lot. Movies today don't trust us to remember that -- even if they are also reminding us of it in the dialogue. So today that would have included both Diane's words and a one-second flashback to the scene. And we would have felt insulted.

17) The first time we hear "In Your Eyes," it's in the backseat of Lloyd's car when they have sex for the first time. But Crowe doesn't indulge in the sentimentality of this song. It doesn't play out or fade, nor does Crowe pull back from the car scene. It's just a smash cut from that scene to the next, with "In Your Eyes" cut off with the words "a thousand churches." Bang, next scene.

18) Smart editing in the three-scene conversation in which Jim Court steadily makes the case that Diane should break up with Lloyd. The dialogue is fluid but there are two wardrobe changes for each character. It gets at how Jim is slowly, successfully, breaking her down, and it's nicely done.

19) And who ever said Jim Court wasn't charming? His pickup line to the clerk at the luggage store (who ultimately has to reject his credit card) is dynamite: "You have the best smile I've seen all week." It's perfect because while it is a compliment about the person's appearance, in the strictest since, it is more a compliment of their personality, their soul. It allows you to put yourself out there without becoming lecherous, and if the other person wants to bite, they will. If I'm ever single again I may have to try that. And poor guy, he would have had that date if it weren't for, you know, the destruction of his credit as a byproduct of his criminal prosecution for ripping off old people.

20) Philip Baker Hall is the guy who convinces Diane her father is guilty. I don't think I even knew who Philip Baker Hall was the last time I saw this. 

21) He tells her to look for things bought with cash. As she walks through the house looking for evidence, she twice passes the $9,000 Wurlitzer that is the most obvious single piece of evidence of his malfeasance. Yet Crowe doesn't insult us by having her eyes go to the Wurlitzer and then cutting to a shot of the Wurlitzer. We know that's the evidence. The movie doesn't need to ram it down our throat.

22) There is a shot of a Goodwill truck when she races over to her dad's workplace to confront him. I don't know exactly what that means, but I doubt it was coincidental.

23) The scene where the two lawyers hash out Jim Court's sentencing. It's quick and efficient and kind of quirky.

24) That perfect ending.

25) I don't have a 25th note, but it seemed like a good round number.

So if you've stuck with me this long, thank you! I should have warned you that I was going to geek out a bit on this movie. 

Besides, you said I could say anything ...


Don Handsome said...

The bowing and kissing shot is my favorite of those little Lloyd moments. Isn't it interesting that we KNOW exactly what Lloyd is all about - even before the famed "bought, processed, or sold" dinner scene - but really its only from these little stolen moments? Other favorites are as follows: "I can give you a tremendous amount of tips...many tips...English tips"; "Hey my man can I buy a copy of your hey soul classics" (or any other little moments between Lloyd and his nephew); Lloyd watching Diane at the party; and Lloyd's "picture" with Diane at graduation. Diane is known by reputation. She's "Diane Court Woah", but Lloyd is just a previously anonymous guy on the verge of being a great date and so much more. But because of these simple little moments we are able to understand the fundamental sweetness of his character and because of these throwaway moments we invest in Lloyd and root for him. Those moments that wouldn't even be in most movies MAKE this movie.

Don Handsome said...
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