In 1989, John Cusack starred in “Say Anything…,” the directorial début of a somewhat successful screenwriter named Cameron Crowe. Cusack played Lloyd Dobler, a just-graduated high-school senior who was so thoroughly the idealized first boyfriend every girl wanted that if Crowe were a woman, we would have all suspected that he was using the screenplay to live out some wish-fulfillment fantasy. As it was, Lloyd the character became conflated, in the minds of many girls of a certain age bracket, with Cusack, the actor, and many crushes were born in young women’s impressionable hearts across North America.
Sixteen years later, Cusack is still coasting on all that goodwill, despite countless horrible movies and a reputation as a real-life jackass. His latest effort, after a two-year hiatus from films, is “Must Love Dogs,” an actually decent-looking romantic comedy in which he stars opposite the age-appropriate Diane Lane. But is it possible for Cusack ever to make a romantic comedy again, for the rest of his life, without having it compared (unfavorably) to “Say Anything…”?
You know, it might not be possible for him to avoid the comparison. I am one of the legion of women who were teenagers as the ’80s rolled over into the ’90s, and Cusack’s performance in “Say Anything…” did kind of ruin me for actual, real-life, non-perfect guys for quite some time. But that’s not to say I can forgive Cusack everything: he used to be on my list of actors that made a movie, if not a must-see, at least one about which I could be cautiously optimistic; his early-’90s work in movies like “The Grifters,” “Bob Roberts,” “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Grosse Pointe Blank” made me believe he was admirably discerning in his roles. Then came “Con Air,” and if the very fact of his appearance in it wasn’t gross enough on its own, his character’s choice of footwear turned a mere career misstep into a shameful travesty.
One word: huaraches.
So since then I haven’t really known how to feel about him. The stories I’ve heard about his real-life exploits — ranging from rudeness to waitresses (unforgivable) to a rumor that, on the long location shoots of “The Thin Red Line,” he would defecate in his pants and leave them in his foxhole for a PA to deal with (huh?) — make it hard for me to see him as that sweet little Lloyd Dobler a whole generation fell in love with. But, despite the way he’s started strolling through all his roles with a distasteful detachment — as though, if he doesn’t seem entirely committed to them, we won’t hold his movie bombs against him — “Must Love Dogs” looks cute. Don’t judge me.
Sarah D. Bunting
I certainly won’t judge you, if you in turn agree not to judge me for what I’m about to say, namely that I’ve always thought “Say Anything…” is deeply overrated (although I love Lili Taylor in it), and that Lloyd Dobler is annoying. He’s pretentious, for starters — the kick-boxing? The “bought, sold, or processed” speech? He’s just trying way too hard, and speaking of that, the famous scene where he holds up the boom box and “In Your Eyes” is playing…I know we’re meant to find that adorably romantic, but I think it’s creepy. He’s…stalking her. I’d have given him a pen, too. In the eye. Back off, bub.
Video: John Cusack Now that I’ve guaranteed myself a metric ton of hate mail without even addressing your question…I love some of Cusack’s early movies, like “One Crazy Summer” and “Better Off Dead” (and the scenes he’s in in “Sixteen Candles”), but I don’t love them because of Cusack; I love them because Savage Steve Holland wrote and directed. “Bullets Over Broadway,” same thing; Cusack has the Woody Allen proxy role, and he does fine with it, I suppose, but Dianne Wiest and Chazz Palminteri are the real stars. Cusack’s just kind of…there, alternating between his two facial expressions, “pop-eyed” and “hang-dog.”
So, my issue with Cusack as a romantic lead isn’t that he’s inextricably associated with “Say Anything…” — it’s that he’s Cusack, a not-great, not-cute actor (his mouth looks like a cat’s behind) who tends to play whiny, flailing characters with whom I don’t have much patience.
Apparently, I do know how to feel about him, to wit: hate!
I can’t quite hate him, though I see your points. These days, I mostly just feel sorry for him; it’s all gone so badly wrong for him. Half the time, he’s just making paycheck movies like “America’s Sweethearts,” “Serendipity,” “Identity,” “Pushing Tin” and “Runaway Jury.” (And how many of those I may have paid full price to see in the theatre is between me and my conscience.) Presumably, he makes those to subsidize what he does with the other half of the time: ostensibly respectable indies. Only I’m not sure how much I can respect so unsubtle a polemic as “Cradle Will Rock,” or so misguided an art film as “Max” (“Come on, Hitler, I'll buy you a glass of lemonade”?!). “High Fidelity” was interesting as a chick flick for dudes, although (a) Cusack’s haircut is so hideous in it that I spent the first 40 minutes thinking it was supposed to be a mid-’80s nostalgia piece, and (b) it was rather eclipsed two years later by the far superior Hornby adaptation “About A Boy.”
Of course, later this year, we can look forward to seeing him play Torvald in “A Doll’s House,” which…wait, huh? I just can’t sign off on that. “Bullets Over Broadway” notwithstanding, the man doesn’t really have an old-fashioned-y face, and he needs to quit trying the period pieces, for real. Plus Ibsen might be a bit of a reach if he’s coming straight off “Must Love Dogs.” Maybe a Tom Clancy in between would make for a smoother transition.
I think a Tom Clancy is an excellent idea — if only to guarantee that I won’t see it and can thereby avoid an Cusack-adjacent annoyance.
Although it occurs to me that maybe there’s a way for Cusack to shake off any associations with “Say Anything…,” and to capitalize on my dislike of him at the same time: villainy. He played an amoral weasel in “True Colors” and actually did a great job — opposite one of Hollywood’s all-time great amoral-weasel portrayers, James Spader, no less, so you know I don’t say that lightly. And his character in “Eight Men Out” isn’t evil or anything; he’s just kind of weak-willed and a bit slimy. But perhaps it’s time Cusack played more roles like that, roles that let him pinch up that tiny, officious-looking mouth of his and do some dastardly mustache-twirling instead of that virtuous hangdog “I’m a girls’ guy” crap, which had already gotten old 15 years ago.
Perhaps. We do know the man can grift.
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