Say Anything… – Ottawa Citizen

Changing world of teens; Writer-director finds youths less concerned with material things

TORONTO – Ten years ago, a 21-year-old Rolling Stone journalist named Cameron Crowe went back to school to research and write a book on teenage life.

The result was Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a fascinating and  – for some adults – distinctly unsettling work of popular sociology. It also opened new doors for Crowe who had been a Rolling Stone staffer since he was 16 and who had proved to be a gifted chronicler of pop culture.

Crowe was assigned the job of adapting Fast Times for the screen. The 1982 film version did blockbuster business, made stars of the likes of Sean Penn and Judge Reinhold, and became a cult classic.

Now, at 31, Crowe has been talking to teenagers again. And he’s discovered that they’ve changed _ that there’s more mutual caring and compassion and less emphasis on material things. He’s dramatized his findings in Say Anything, a new comedy-drama starring John Cusack as a 19-year-old nonconformist blessed with an unquenchable optimism along with a nutty ambition to be a kick-boxer, Ione Skye as the brainy and beautiful girl of his dreams, and John Mahoney as the father she loves and who _ as it turns out _ proves to be tragically flawed.

Furthermore, after directors Lawrence Kasdan and Paul Brickman turned it down (they had other commitments), Crowe took on the directing chores himself. He flew into Toronto (along with pop-singer wife Nancy Wilson who co-wrote the soundtrack) this week to talk about the film.

What worries him most is that Say Anything will be viewed as just another teenage movie.

”I have always wanted to write about young people. I’ve wanted to give them their dignity and not exploit it. Yet, there are so many movies that have come out since Fast Times that just… just… ”

Crowe breaks off, shrugs. ”Well, kids are smarter than that. That was the inspiration for doing the original Fast Times book, to show that young people are always smarter than you give them credit for being, that the ‘Fonzie’ Happy Days mentality wasn’t an accurate reflection of what was going on in their lives back then.”

Yet to Crowe, today’s teenage films and situation comedies continue to be divorced from reality. He cites the recent Licence To Drive as an example. He even cites the television series based on Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

”I’m sorry to admit that TV show actually happened. I couldn’t stop it.” He remembers sitting in on meetings with story editors, telling them to send their writers into the playgrounds and streets and shopping malls. ”I wanted them to really spend time with these kids and with their families and in the places these kids frequented. But of course they never did.”

Crowe is an oddity on the Hollywood scene. He brings a journalistic sensibility to his screen projects. He’s been in love with the processes of research and writing ever since he was a youngster. His hiring by Rolling Stone at the age of 16 was no fluke: by the time he was 15, he’d sold pieces to publications as varied as Playboy, Creem and The Los Angeles Times.

He has written outstanding profiles of such seminal pop figures as Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Eric Clapton and has almost completed a biography of Neil Young.

When writing for the screen, he’s still driven by his journalist’s obsession for accurate research.

”I don’t want to flog the subject, but what bothers me about teen movies is the lack of honesty – or what I perceive as honesty. I have these visions of producers saying ‘I’m gonna do a teen movie,’ so they sit this room and try to figure out what kids are really like. The result always backfires  – perhaps not commercially but certainly in terms of not giving kids a fair shake and not giving adults a fair shake.”

He cites the John Cusack character in Say Anything and his peculiar ambition to become a kickboxer. ”He’s based on a guy who lives down the street from me and sees kickboxing as a career. I couldn’t make up anything as good as this on my own.”

A decade ago, his research for Fast Times brought him face to face with an adolescent generation preoccupied with lifestyle _ expensive stereo equipment, clothes, cars.

The era of Ronald Reagan was arriving and with it a ”me generation” psychology.

”I could see it before the media started writing about it. I remember at this school I was researching, Ted Kennedy was giving a speech nearby and the school paper couldn’t get anyone to cover it. Can you imagine? And a guy was writing a column that reflected the psychology of the Michael J. Fox character in Family Ties years before it became a stereotype.”

For Crowe, many young people seemed to be succumbing to adult values and adult pressures too soon, and in the process were losing touch with their own natures. He sees the Sean Penn character as the hero of the earlier film. ”In a subtle way, he was happy to be his own age. And that’s what I wanted to say _ guys, its OK to be 17. It’s OK.”

In researching Say Anything, Crowe found the pressures of the adult world as intense as ever for teenagers, but he also saw differences.

”Kids are still growing up too quickly, but they’re responding differently.

”There’s more compassion, more caring for one another, more a quest for personal fulfilment rather than just bucks.”

Some new elements upset him. ”There are pockets of crack and cocaine usage and that really disturbs me. But on the other hand, kids talk about things like the peace corps and that’s good.”

Courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen – Jamie Portman – April 12, 1989