Say Anything… – Daily Breeze

Respect for teens

Young director knows subjects

Cameron Crowe says, “So many of the movies about young people now seem to be coming from guys sitting in offices who think they know what young people are like. They don’t really go out and spend time doing the research.”

Crowe, on the other hand, does the research. For “Say Anything,” his first film as a director-screenwriter that is now playing at area theaters and garnering good reviews, he hung out at Seattle teen haunts and spent hours chatting with kids over burgers and fries.

For Fast Times at Ridgemont High, his best-selling book about adolescent culture, he went undercover in 1979 to do his field work. A young-looking 21-year-old at the time, he passed himself off as a high school student. He attended classes, made friends, learned the language and the rituals, and got an insider’s perspective on the expectations and dreams of kids caught up in the convulsive process of leaving childhood behind.

The book was turned into a hit movie in 1982, for which Crowe wrote the screenplay. “Fast Times” vaulted Sean Penn from anonymity to stardom with his performance as a marijuana-puffing party-animal surfer and helped ignite a teen-picture boom in the ’80s.

Crowe is far from happy with the direction that boom has taken in the years since. He’s grown tired of movies where “Animal House” behavior abounds, where there’s always at least one car chase and “every Porsche goes into the water.” He said “Say Anything” was written to counterbalance the hormonal excesses that have become the stock in trade of the Hollywood teen movie.

“Say Anything” is about a romance between a brilliant but lonely high school beauty and a good-hearted kid who makes up in sincerity and sensitivity for what he lacks in social polish (Ione Skye and John Cusack play the couple). It’s also about the deep love that exists between the girl and her adoring father (John Mahoney), a man with a hidden dark side to his nature.

The picture is notable for the respect with which it treats all of its characters and for the perceptiveness of its insights into their feelings.

Father role treated sensitively

Most teen movies would make the father a puritanical ogre or a nitwit. In “Say Anything,” he’s a man who trusts his daughter and who talks to her as an equal.

Most teen movies would have you believe that a kid’s highest goal in life is to crumple fenders and scorch tires. In “Say Anything,” kids at a party designate one of their number as the “key master,” whose job it is to collect everyone’s car keys, stay sober and decide which kids are too intoxicated to drive home. It’s his responsibility to make sure the intoxicated get home safely even if he has to drive them himself.

To know kids is to respect them, Crowe said. He believes most teen movies don’t respect them, because the “guys sitting in offices” don’t know them at all. “If you spend time at all among young people, you can’t help but respect them,” Crowe said. Crowe said. “I’ve been accused of not having bad guys and good guys (in his movies), that everyone is just people. I love that. Because when you’re 17 or 18, are you really a bad guy? Are you really a good guy? It’s such a time of high highs and low lows. I just love celebrating that wide range of emotions.

“Most people, when they get in their 20s and 30s, just shave it off a little bit. They don’t have the experience of going up and going down 12 times in a day. They’re happy to cruise right along. And I always like to celebrate the time when it isn’t like that.”

Crowe, a Southern California native, said the decision to shoot most of the exterior scenes of “Say Anything” in Seattle grew out of his desire to have it stand apart from mainstream teen pictures. “Coming up here seemed like a great way to write about real people,” he said. Setting it in Southern California would just have been an invitation to people to dismiss it as just one more “that only happens in Southern California” picture.

Crowe is no stranger to the Northwest. He now lives in Seattle with his wife of 2 1/2 years, Nancy Wilson, co-leader (with her sister Ann) of the the rock group Heart. Wilson co-wrote the songs on the “Say Anything” sound track and even had a bit role in the picture, almost all of which wound up on the editing-room floor.

Crowe, who maintains a townhouse in Santa Monica as a secondary residence, started visiting Seattle back in the days when he was one of the youngest writers on the staff of Rolling Stone. He joined the magazine when he was 16 years old after having had rock-star interview pieces published in Playboy, Penthouse and other major publications at 15.

A high school graduate at 15 (he skipped several grades with the help and encouragement of his schoolteacher mother), Crowe’s work for a San Diego underground paper brought him to the attention of the big boys, including the ones who ran Rolling Stone. “My parents make this joke that I went on the road with the Allman Brothers when I was 15 and never came back,” he said.

He was with the magazine from 1973 to 1980, leaving around the time Fast Times was published. After “Fast Times,” the book and the movie, he wrote the script for “The Wild Life.” It was another youth movie, a sort of follow-up to “Fast Times,” in which kids coped with life after high school. Now there’s “Say Anything,” which Crowe thinks may be his valedictory to the youth-film genre.

At 31, he’s no longer able to pass for a teen-ager, no longer able to slip into another generation’s shoes. How does that make him feel?

“Old,” Crowe said. “It makes me feel that this is my last time through, being able to do the research enough to be accurate.” He and “Say Anything” star Cusack, whose career has been built on playing teens but who is now in his 20s, both feel it’s time to move on, he said.

He said they’re happy to have “Say Anything” stand as their swan song to adolescence. As Crowe puts it, “We had a chance to go back and graduate with dignity.”

Courtesy of Daily Breeze – Soren Anderson – May 1, 1989