Say Anything… – Philadelphia Inquirer

Leavings His Teens at 31

He still looks young enough to pass for a student. But writer-director Cameron Crowe insists that “Say Anything” is his last word on adolescence.

It was graduation night and the party for a group of Santa Monica high school students was going full blast when a youth approached Cameron Crowe.

“Hey, man, you didn’t graduate from our school,” the young man said, looking him up and down suspiciously.

“No, I didn’t,” conceded Crowe.

“Awwwright! I won some money on you.”

“I wanted to meet whoever had the other side of the bet. I was really flattered I still looked that young,” said Crowe, who is all of 31. “For a while there, I was winging it and saying, ‘Hey, I really fit right in here.’ Then, later, I told myself I had to give up this infiltration journalism. It was getting embarrassing. But I got a lot of good stuff.”

That night and countless others of careful listening by Crowe have yielded Say Anything, his first effort as a director and a film that transforms the vulgar banalities of the standard Hollywood teen movie into a fresh and exhilarating comedy of minors.

Although he is practically in his dotage by adolescent standards, the one time Rolling Stone rock writer, who wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High 10 years ago, then adapted the book for the highly successful 1982 comedy, has an uncannily accurate ear for teenspeak. Say Anything, that rare movie that actually says something to kids, has an easygoing authenticity that makes it a film to be heard as well as seen.

The ingredients of the piece – the unattainable high-school beauty and the misfit who loves her, the authority figures and the joys of just hanging out – may be the standard recipe, but Crowe makes a fresh dish from them. John Cusack, now 22, stars in what he vows is his farewell to the teen genre with a charming and witty account of Lloyd Dobler, an aspiring kick-boxer smitten with Diane Court (Ione Skye). Diane and her father think she can do a lot better. So, too, in moments of candid introspection, does Lloyd.

Crowe, who has been toiling in Hollywood for most of the ’80s, says Say Anything will be his last word on the teen scene. In fact, Say Anything didn’t even start out as a teen movie.

“I never wanted to do another one,” Crowe said over lunch at the Ritz Cafe. “I didn’t want to do Fast Times 2. Sean Penn wanted to do a movie called Spicoli: The Movie (based on the cult character he played in Fast Times). But I wasn’t interested. Then I met James Brooks when he was doing research for Broadcast News and talking to journalists. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing a father-daughter relationship. It seemed a step away from what I had done, so I said yes.”

Eventually, in script drafts and story conferences, the young characters came to the fore and Brooks served as producer of the film.

“I sort of backed into another teenage character,” said Crowe. “It ended up being a different movie from what we started out with, but I felt there was one more story I could tell.”

The reason Crowe tells it so well is that while most people escape their teens with a sigh of relief, he is still fascinated by what is a turbulent time in just about anyone’s life. That’s rather ironic for a man who, in a sense, skipped his late teens and college years to plunge into the real world.

“My mom was a teacher, and she had me skip grades,” he said of his abbreviated school days in San Diego. “I graduated (from high school) my junior year.”

He wound up at Rolling Stone when his peers were going off to college.

“They didn’t know how old I was,” Crowe said with a still-boyish grin. ”They were just glad to have someone who was willing to spend a week on the road with Black Sabbath. . . . But even then, when I’d go on the road with Peter Frampton, I was always interviewing the fans. I always felt that the guy selling Pepsi at the concert had more of a rock-and-roll lifestyle than the guy I’d been sent to interview, sitting up there in a luxury hotel suite.”

Even so, Crowe, who lives in Santa Monica with his wife, singer Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart, never envisaged becoming a leading light in an area Hollywood has always exploited as a sort of acne market.

“I got a slim little book contract (for Fast Times), and then things snowballed,” he said. The book Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a nonfiction account of life at a Southern California high school which the youthful looking Crowe had infiltrated by posing as a student.

“Everybody was surprised that (the Fast Times movie), that didn’t have nostalgia going for it like American Graffiti, could do well. It’s done very well on video.”

Crowe is a good listener, but he started paying attention in earnest when he began work on the screenplay for Say Anything 18 months ago. He found the adolescent world much changed from the late ’70s.

“The main thing is that there’s more of a cocaine atmosphere,” he said. ”It’s kind of sad to see these 17-year-olds sneaking off to the bathroom. But there’s also another side to them, a post-Live-Aid kind of thing where there’s more compassion and more of a Peace Corps instead of a Shearson Lehman mentality. I hope that’s reflected in the movie. They care about each other.”

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which starred Penn, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold, was a trend-setting picture that prompted a rash of rip-offs.

“There weren’t many movies about what it was like to be young (in the late ’70s and early ’80s),” said Crowe. “Now there are 150 of them. If they put them all in a time capsule and buried them and someone dug them up hundreds of years from now, they’d believe that every girl lost her virginity on prom night and every time the parents left the house, it was destroyed by a huge party. The teenage movies I like are the natural, realistic ones like The Breakfast Club.

“Nothing beats the real stuff, the way people really say things.”

He found a lot of the real stuff in Say Anything through chance encounters. Lili Taylor, the young actress who plays one of Lloyd’s musician friends, would phone Crowe late at night to moan about her apathetic boyfriend, Joe. ”She’d say, ‘You won’t believe what Joe did last night.’ She’d written all these songs about him. So I said, ‘Hey, I’ll have to call Joe to get his side of it.’ He’d say, ‘Hey, man, this chick is like all over me. She writes all of these songs about me. What am I gonna do? Some of them are pretty good.’ ”

The exchange makes a good scene in the movie.

Judging from the reaction of teens at Say Anything preview screenings, said Crowe, the film’s dialogue hits home. “They don’t say ‘date’ anymore,” he reported. “The word is ‘scam.’ If you really like a girl and really lust after her, you’re scamming on her. Put the word scam in a movie and they go nuts.”

Crowe’s next writing and directing project is called Singles, a movie about dating rituals among the late-’20s crowd that will bring him into the unfamiliar territory of people closer to his own age. It comes none too soon for Crowe, who reports this back-to-the-future phenomenon from his forays among the young:

“After a certain point,” he said, “you actually become the guy you used to react against – the one who was always too old to know what was really going on.”

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer – Desmond Ryan – April 23, 1989