Amsterdam, Tolerance, and George Stevens’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

In September, I spent a month traveling Europe with my best friend. I’d never been to Europe. Heck, I’d never even been on a plane. Thus, this trip was a little frightening but also terribly, terribly exciting.

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My bestie and I in Dublin, Ireland

I thought that since it’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’d be fun to cover one movie for each of the places I visited. So, of course, I’m starting with the most depressing.

The first is Amsterdam. I was lucky enough a few years back to attend a screening of this film at the TCM Film Fest. Its stars Diane Baker and Millie Perkins were even in attendance to discuss the film afterwards. It’s a film which is not easy to forget. It was only made twenty years after and so, the events were still fresh. The film’s director, Mr. George Stevens, had seen the consequences of the holocaust firsthand.

I, myself, read the book when I was in middle school. I remember the overwhelming nature of the story – I was still in my phase of always wanting a happy ending. I knew before I read it that it did not end happily, but reading it was still a more emotional experience than I expected it to be. I was 13, just as Anne was at the beginning of her diary and it was hard for me to grasp that this wasn’t just a story, that this had really happened, that a girl not dissimilar from me had been murdered.

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Anne in the first class of Jewish Secondary school, 1941

I saw the movie afterwards and remember liking it, though when I saw it on the big screen at the TCM Fest, I was absorbed in a completely different way. The claustrophobia and anxiety was palpable and I was a mess (even through my mother constantly leaning over to ask me how much was left – she’s not good in long movies).

When I sat down to write, this was the first movie which popped into my head, mostly because with recent events like what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been thinking about Anne’s diary and George Steven’s adaptation a lot. I think, more than ever before, this film and Anne’s outlook on the world is of the utmost importance.

Believe it or not, the actress that director George Stevens first had in mind to play Anne was not an unknown. Instead, it was a little actress by the name of Audrey Hepburn. At the time, Hepburn was twenty-eight, not to mention the fact that she was not Jewish. Hepburn had, however lived through that period in Amsterdam and witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.

Still, either because of scheduling conflicts or mixed feelings, Hepburn turned down the part and Stevens was forced to do a large casting call where he finally found Millie Perkins, a model from Passaic, New Jersey. Perkins was twenty at the time and completely green, which I think ultimately, made her the perfect actress to play Anne. She was unassuming and tenacious, just like Anne, and she hit every dramatic beat perfectly.

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Love the B&W cinematography

Diane Baker was also a newcomer, playing Anne’s older sister, Margot. She brought a vulnerability and sweetness to the part and obviously, went on to do great things in movies like The Silence of the Lambs and many others.

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The main cast crowded into one photo

Shelley Winters was totally committed to her role of Mrs. Van Daan. She was asked by George Stevens to gain twenty-five pounds for the role. She said she’d gain fifty if necessary. She and Stevens had collaborated once before on A Place in the Sun and she had the utmost respect and confidence for him.

Someone who doesn’t get his due is Richard Beymer, who plays Anne’s love interest, Peter. Though Beymer maybe shouldn’t have been cast as Tony in West Side Story, his charm can’t be discarded. You can totally see why Anne falls for him.

My Amsterdam Experience (Visiting the Anne Frank House)

Amsterdam was my favorite place. I’m not sure if it was the great food, or the friendly people, or the gorgeous canals. Regardless, it was beautiful and fascinating city, even if they do make you press a button to get off the train at your stop (TBH the transportation was so confusing).

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The canals were gorgeous!

Having grown up hearing stories about the Holocaust in Hebrew school as well as reading the diary itself, I thought I was fairly knowledgable about the subject. Still, when the tour guide started taking us through the history, the gravity of the situation hit me. At many points leading up to the Holocaust, many people, including the Franks thought it impossible. No one could imagine such horror would actually take place, that people would give in to hatred and bigotry.

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Anne and Otto Frank

Walking through the Anne Frank house itself was different than what I expected. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be, especially Anne and Margot’s room. There was newspaper clippings, all over the walls, movie stars they liked. Funnily enough, there were quite a few photos of Deanna Durbin.

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This, for some reason, got me the most. 

It was an emotional experience, but an important one. Whether or not Anne’s diary was given some help by her father after his death or not, the feelings behind it, what her diary represented is what matters. In such a cynical time, Anne’s optimistic view of humanity is vital.

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The first page of Anne’s diary

Living in a country where we, the people elected Donald Trump doesn’t feel a step in the direction of tolerance. Still, I can either be cynical and rant about how it feels like the world is ending or I can do my part: pay attention, speak out against injustices, promote tolerance, and try my hardest to see the good in people.

This film may not be cheerful, but it’s poignancy can’t be denied. George Stevens was known for his comedic sensibility. He directed Swing Time, the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film IMHO, and a string of great screwball comedies like Woman of the Year and The More the Merrier. However, when after he came back from being part of a film unit which documented the war, he didn’t make comedies anymore. Instead, he chose to direct important dramas like A Place in the Sun and Giant.

While there have been other adaptations of Anne’s diary, Stevens’ is IMHO the best. I’ve spoken before on this blog about our inability to grasp events that happened before we were born. It’s one of the reasons film is such a powerful medium. We can watch The Diary of Anne Frank and gain a new perspective; understand that these events did take place and that we all need to do our part to make sure they never happen again.

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I love this quote. Words matter. 

Photos property of Twentieth Century Fox.

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Carole Lombard and the Vitality of “Nothing Sacred”

This past week, I got a summer cold; one of those sneezing, wheezing head-achy colds where you basically can’t do anything except watch movies. Though I do not enjoy being sick, I do enjoy any excuse to binge watch movies. I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, I go for comfort food, both in terms of actual food (Hail Matzos Ball Soup!) and in terms of the movies I watch. Screwball comedies are the best medicine.

One such screwball comedy I revisited was 1937’s Nothing Sacred starring Frederic March and the luminous and truly hilarious Carole Lombard. If you’re unfamiliar, the film features Frederic March as Wally Cook, a reporter who’s just lost credibility on a story and thus, been designated to writing obituaries. In an attempt to win back his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook travels to Warsaw, Virginia to track down Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a girl who’s dying of radium poisoning. Only one problem; just before they meet, Flagg is given a clean bill of health, but wanting a free trip out of Warsaw, keeps up the charade. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

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500 emotions by Carole Lombard

Here are some reasons you should put Nothing Sacred on your summer watchlist!

The Cast

I’ve discussed Frederic March once before on this blog when I wrote about I Married a Witch!, another screwball favorite. Unlike that film, in which he and his co-star, Veronica Lake despised one another, the experience of filming Nothing Sacred was apparently filled with pranks and lots of laughter. March and Lombard got along very well, something that’s apparent in watching them together.

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Always so serious…

Lombard was in her late twenties and was at the top of her game. She had already made Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey, two other wonderful screwball comedies you should all watch. Like when I was introduced to Judy Holliday, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lucille Ball when watching Lombard. She was so expressive and zany and just free. You can’t help but fall in love with her excitement, whether it’s justified or not.

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This is me when someone takes my picture.

As with many screwball comedies, the film had an impressive supporting cast of character actors which included Charles Winniger, Walter Connolly, and one strange, but very funny scene featuring Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Shaving cream everywhere!

The Script

Ben Hecht was hired by David O. Selznick to write a comedy vehicle for Lombard, but as was his style, Ben made it a bit darker than Selznick wanted and his version didn’t include a happy ending. Additionally, Hecht meant for the doctor part to go to his friend, John Barrymore, but by that time, Barrymore was a known alcoholic and Selznick wouldn’t allow it. Hecht ended up walking off the picture and the script was handed over to new writers who would punch up the dialogue and deliver a “happy ending.”

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Her “suicide note.” Love that she’s gonna face the end like an elephant.

Despite what went on behind the scenes, the script is a great balance of screwball antics and smart satire. It seems Hecht was covering the same ground as It Should Happen to You, the Judy Holliday film I discussed a while back. Both films comment on celebrity; how we define the criteria for celebrities and also, how we, as a society react to them. New York City obsesses over Hazel Flagg’s tragedy. It makes them feel better about themselves to be paying tribute to a dying girl.

At first, Hazel enjoys the attention and the benefits of her newfound celebrity, but soon, her conscience weighs on her, especially because she knows that when she comes out as a fake, her beloved reporter will be blamed. March yells at his editor at one point, accusing him of not really caring about Miss Flagg at all, only the headlines her death will bring. When March finds out that Hazel’s been lying about her ailment, he’s elated because he’s in love with her, but everyone else is actually angry that a girl who was supposed to die isn’t going to die after all. Kinda messed up, isn’t it?

The Romance

Okay, you all know I’m a sucker for anything romantic, even if it’s not technically the point of the movie. This film is no exception. Carole Lombard has great chemistry with Frederic March and now I’m going to show you a series of gifs which prove just that.

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How cute are they? 

Their Famous Fight

So, not to give everything away but towards the end of the film, Lombard and March have a physical fight…which is IMHO hilarious. I, of course, do not condone this kind of fighting, but it’s more Marx bros. slapstick than straight-up abuse. Lombard grew up with boys and knew how to box, so she was excited when she got the chance to throw punches. Apparently, the day after they shot the scene, Lombard had to take a day off to deal with her bruises. I mean, it looks to me like she actually got punched!

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According to an article in The Guardian, March did try to seduce Lombard off-set and Carole dealt with it much like one of her characters might. She called March to her dressing room and lifted her skirt to reveal that she was wearing a large dildo. Suffice it to say, March didn’t bother her again.

Because it’s a great showcase of Lombard’s talent and it’s just plain entertaining!

Carole Lombard died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Like Judy Holliday, Lombard’s talent was enormous and her life was also cut tragically short. But, because of film, we can still watch Lombard and experience her zany charm forever. This was apparently one of her favorites of her films and it’s one of my favorites as well, next to the genius that is My Man Godfrey of course.

Usually, I post a link to the trailer but this film is in the public domain, so if you have the time, simply press play on the link below.

Human imperfection and ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’

I know it’s been a bit since I’ve posted. Life and other writing endeavors have gotten in the way. But, now I’m back to discuss a movie I’ve only just discovered. I recently made a trip home to see my parents and my dad sent me back to my L.A. homestead with some new *old* films to watch. Among them was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The only knowledge I had of this film was the casting. I knew that a young Maggie Smith, aka Professor McGonnagall, was the lead and that Pamela Franklin, aka one of the scary children from The Innocents had a part. I had a certain idea of what this film was going to be before I sat down to watch it and it completely subverted all expectations.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie follows Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith), a thirtysomething teacher at a private girls school in 1930s Scotland. Her teaching methods are unorthodox to be sure, but there’s no doubt, she inspires her students. She talks to them about her own life, the choices she’s made, and the fact that she is currently in her prime…apparently. Strangely though, she doesn’t discuss history and literature much, which is what she’s actually being paid to teach. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

Here are just a few reasons you should put The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on your watchlist:

The Cast

Before this film, I had only seen Maggie Smith as an older actress. But, she had a long career before she was in Harry Potter or even A Room With a View. At the time she made this film, Smith was virtually unknown. The part of Jean Brodie had been played by Vanessa Redgrave in the stage version.

Smith was around thirty-five when she played Jean Brodie and it’s a completely different Maggie Smith than you’ve seen before. Unlike her professor character in Potter or her chaperon character in Room with a View, Smith is free and wild in this film. She’s sexual and flirtatious and egotistical and charming. Her performance won her a Best Actress Oscar and it was well deserved.

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A bit dramatic, no?

Pamela Franklin, who’ve I talked about before on this blog, is famous really for two performances, her role in The Innocents and for playing Sandy in this film. I was surprised, watching her in this film, at how different she is. The scenes she shares with Robert Stephens I thought were quite scandalous. She’s nude and she looks like such a young girl. However, she was nineteen when she made this film and since this film was made just after the production code ended, this was a specific period where they were trying to see how far they could push the envelope.

Her portrayal is layered and interesting. Sandy is several things, conniving and kind of a bully. She’s curious about her own sexuality. But, she’s the only one of Miss Brodie’s pupils who questions her methods and their validity. It’s a shame Franklin left acting.

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Don’t underestimate a girl who wears glasses. 🙂

The other wonderful surprise in this film was getting to see Celia Johnson, who played one of the leads in my favorite film, Brief Encounter, in an older, much different part. In  a way, it was a reverse of my knowing Maggie Smith only as an older actress. I only knew Celia Johnson as a younger actress, so seeing her in this was fascinating. In this film, Celia plays the headmistress of the school, a tough woman who’s skeptical of Miss Brodie. And, as usual, she kills it.

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She still looks like she’s thinking a lot though, right?

The Script

The screenplay was written by Jay Presson Allen who also had written the play. It was adapted from the novel by Muriel Spark. I talked about how the film subverted my expectations for the genre and that really comes down to story.

I think what really shocked me was the fact that the character of Jean Brodie was so incredibly flawed and kind of bordering on unlikable. As children, we assume that our teachers have their lives together. Actually, we pretty much apply that principle to any adult. Jean Brodie is, to me, still very immature. She thinks of herself as a savior to her students, as a guide and example for how they should live their adult lives.

We see the effect that the charismatic Jean Brodie has on two students in particular – Mary, played by Jane Carr, a shy, impressionable girl who listens to Brodie dutifully and Sandy, played as I already discussed by Pamela Franklin, who is more skeptical and adventurous and ultimately, strong.

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No fear here!

Because it’s a reminder that perfection is unattainable!

Miss Brodie ultimately is quite immature. Her actions are not of a together person and yet, despite her actions, you do feel sympathy for her when she loses everything. That’s what makes this story so compelling – it’s about real people, people who are imperfect and make mistakes, even when they have the best of intentions.

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Aka immaturity. HUMANS ARE IMPERFECT. 

Vintage trailer below:

The Prime of Miss Brodie trailer

Gifs and photos property of 20th Century Fox.

“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

 

The insanity of Kirk Douglas in “Detective Story”

As most of you know, I don’t think of myself as someone who loves film noir. I’m generally turned off by the words as I associate them with films about angry men and murder. There are great movies often put in the category of film noir which subvert these stereotypes. And don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being unfair – some of those gangster, angry men films about murder are really good!

All this to say, I wasn’t over-the-moon excited to see Detective Story at this year’s TCM Film Festival. However, this was on my dad’s must list, so it was required viewing for me, just like Bye Bye Birdie was required viewing for him. Surprisingly, I was so mesmerized by Detective Story and Kirk Douglas’s insane performance that I ended up counting it as one of my favorite experiences from this year’s festival.

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He’s a little nutty.

If you’ve never seen Detective Story, (which, y’know, no judgement), it follows Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), a hardworking guy in love with his beautiful wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker). We see a day in his life at the police station, where he fights for justice. However, when one of his cases ends up connecting to Mary and a secret in her past, James is not exactly levelheaded. Also at the station that day are a cast of crazy characters including a shoplifter (Lee Grant) and 

Here are just a few reasons you should give Detective Story a watch:

The Cast

Kirk Douglas has been crazy in many of his performances, but Detective Story was when he graduated to straight up CRAY. He also made Billy Wilder’s acclaimed satire, Ace in the Hole, the same year. I almost feel like Kirk’s acting style was ahead of his time. Although the film is basically a filmed play, Kirk’s intense performance makes you feel like he was really trying to “live” his role. He apparently did follow around New York City police detectives to prepare for the role.

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TBH he seems a little more than annoyed…

At the festival, Actress Lee Grant was interviewed about her experience working on the film and how she dealt with being on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade. She really is quite the revelation in this film. Lee plays the “shoplifter,” a part she desperately wanted. She was originally offered the part of the ingenue in the stage play, but thought it was a boring part and so fought for this one. She was 24 at the time and just after she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar, Grant was blacklisted for speaking at a known Communist’s funeral. She lost several years of her film career, but filled her time working on the stage. Now, she’s an accomplished writer and director who aims to represent the people who can’t speak for themselves.

Lee is so incredibly funny in Detective Story and she literally steals every scene she’s in.

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A totally natural way to leave a police station. Gotta say goodbye. Just good manners…

Eleanor Parker is also wonderful as Kirk’s wife with a secret past. She’s feminist and speaks truth to stupid. #TheFutureIsFemale

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Don’t you love old trailers? SO EPIC.

The supporting players are also wonderful – William Bendix, Cathy O’Donnell, George MacReady, and Horace McHanon.

The Script

Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Sidney Knight wrote the stage play of Detective Story, which was adapted for the screen by Robert Wyler. I love plays so to me, it’s no shocker why this film hit with me. It’s, in my mom’s coined phrase, “talky, talky, shit, shit, shit.” I love it though because it’s all about the character development, about the small moments. Also, as heavy as the film can be, there’s a lot of humor which I always appreciate.

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Seriously, WTF does this even mean? DUMP THIS GUY!

The Direction

William Wyler was no stranger to adapting stage plays for the screen. In fact, one such adaptation, The Heiress, I’ve already discussed on this blog and it’s one of my favorite films. Wyler was wonderful with actors and in a film so dependent on performances, he certainly deserves credit.

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Intense, NO?

The Cinematography

Lee Garmes of Scarface and Duel in the Sun took a filmed play and added new dimensions, using deep focus. He makes it feel cinematic.

The Production Code

This film was obviously made while the production code was in effect and the Breen office had several problems with Kingsley’s play as it was. Most specifically, they took issue with the play having an abortionist character. In the film, the dialogue is vague, but looking at it today, it’s pretty easy to see that’s what they’re talking about. Additionally, they had a problem with any law enforcement officer being killed, but they made an exception for this film.

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My favorite line in the film. Look at his eyes. LOL.

It’s a thought-provoking, emotional, hilarious crime drama

And it’s one-hundred percent worth your time, mostly for the outstanding performances by Kirk Douglas and a very young Lee Grant. Times have changed and there are moments of this film that feel very outdated, but that to me, is the magic of film. It’s a snapshot of a time and a place and specifically, in this film, how the country addressed difficult issues such as abortion.

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CC: my mother

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of Paramount Pictures.

Revelations about and because of James L. Brooks’ ‘Broadcast News’

First things first – so sorry I have been MIA over the last month! The movie watching has not stopped (if it had you know something would have to be SERIOUSLY wrong). I have been watching ’em and making my list of movies to discuss and over the next several weeks, I’m finally going to get to it!

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the brilliant, hilarious and extremely relevant film Broadcast News. This was a movie I had seen several years ago, as a young teenager. Although I remember liking the film a lot, this second viewing at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, was surprising. Some films just have to be seen as an older person to be appreciated and I think Broadcast News is definitely one of them.

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TBH…their conversation was straight-up hilarious. 

Prolific producer/writer/director James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News follows Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a quickly rising tv news producer. She’s smart as a whip and literally thinks twelve steps ahead of everyone else around her. Her best friend is the hilarious, smart and IMHO very cute Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). He’s one-hundred percent in love with Jane, something you can see five minutes into watching their relationship. A new anchor, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) comes onto the scene, pulling both at Jane’s heartstrings and encroaching on Aaron’s professional territory. In other words…DRAMA ENSUESSSSSSS.

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Burrrrrrrn. Really, though. I told you there’d be some drama. 

Here are just a few reasons Broadcast News is a movie you honestly should’ve put on your rundown (bad news pun)…like years ago!

The Cast

As I’ve said a bajillion times on this blog, casting is so important to how a movie turns out. If you cast people that are fun and relatable and just plain entertaining to watch, the characters can grow beyond just some lines of dialogue on a piece of paper. This film is a classic example of quite honestly, perfect casting.

One of the revelations from the TCM fest panel with James L. Brooks and Albert Brooks (no relation, guys, I swear) was that Holly Hunter was cast at the last minute and another unnamed actress almost got the part. Hunter was a virtual unknown at the time. She had just filmed Raising Arizona, a film which was only released a few months before Broadcast News. Hunter is the true anchor of the film, a confusing choice of words because she plays the executive producer of the news show in the film.

As a young woman, I find her portrayal of Jane to be so relatable. She’s so human and so complicated and filled with contradictions and you could never watch her and feel disconnected to her struggles.

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#RealTalk…I cry at least once a day.

Albert Brooks is so completely underrated. In the Q&A between Albert Brooks and James L. Brooks which was helmed by Ben Mankiewicz, Albert said he felt that Jane was never going to ultimately get with Aaron. Watching the film again, which was after the Q&A, I was like outrageously angry at Jane. If you were Jane, WHY WOULDN’T YOU GET WITH AARON? I mean, he’s intelligent, he’s funny, he’s self deprecating. He’s cute and a good person. I mean, come on, really though! I think this really goes to the heart of two arguments for me: one is attraction is about MORE than looks. The other is that I’m tired of movies never letting the actual good guy, the “underdog” get the girl. I mean, this is another Pretty in Pink scenario, guys. She belonged with Duckie, not that rich asshole.

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I flinch every time I watch this scene…

Whew, thanks for letting me get out, y’all. Back to Albert Brooks being awesome. He, separate from his character, is smart and literally hilarious. If you need some proof, just watch this clip from The Tonight Show back in the 70’s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – I just wrote a literal lovefest about Albert Brooks. How am I possibly going to sing William Hurt’s praises too? Well, you’re about to find out. I do understand Jane’s attraction to Hurt’s Tom Grunick. Grunick is charming and obviously adorable. And, the thing is, Hurt is extremely intelligent so his portrayal of a dunce is actually quite funny. He’s also a fantastic actor who was already an Academy Award winner at the time they filmed Broadcast News.

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He’s a little freaked out…but his hair looks amazing!

The supporting players are also fantastic – Robert Prosky, a wonderful character actor plays the head of the news division. Jack Nicholson plays Bill Rorish, the top news anchor with an ego, quite a stretch for Nicholson! Cough, cough.

The real supporting MVP of the film though is one Joan Cusack. I’ve heard people refer to her as John Cusack’s sister which, is, of course, true but also infuriating. Do you think people refer to John Cusack as Joan Cusack’s brother? I think not! Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The upshot of it is she is a star in her own right and she is fantastic in this film. For real though, she delivers my favorite line in the film which she says to Holly Hunter’s Jane in tears: “Except for socially, you’re my role model.” Laugh-cry are the only words that can describe that moment.

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JOAN CUSACK IS EVERYTHING. 

The Script

Beyond the cast, the other essential piece of this film is the script. It is so wildly funny while also being relatable, relevant and moving. James L. Brooks wrote this as a romantic comedy which kind of cracks me up considering how the film ends.

Still, what movie being made today covers the same ground as Broadcast News? It’s essentially about people, but it’s also about the current (at the time obvi) state of television news, the ethics in telling a story, the moral obligation to be truthful. In this way, it’s an obvious precursor to Sorkin’s The Newsroom. His characters, too, are very preoccupied with the ethics of being a news reporter.

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Hmmm…I don’t know about that. #Rationalization

I especially liked the focus on the three main characters since they were all so different, but still human and likable.

Tom is the handsome idiot, except he isn’t. Tom has a skill set that both Aaron and Jane are missing. He knows how to present information in a trustworthy, confident way.

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Even his hair is trustworthy…lol

Jane is a career girl and I think the real reason she struggles socially is not because she’s incapable, but because she believes the only way to excel in her career is to block out everything else.

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Lesson learned: DO NOT MESS WITH HOLLY HUNTER

Aaron, on the other hand, is intensely smart but also neurotic, which is what ultimately is blocking him. He can’t stop thinking for a minute…which of course, I don’t relate to at all.

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The FUNNIEST scene in the movie, but it’s also a bit hard to watch. 

The Romance

As you all know from reading my movie musings, I’m a fan of the romance. Whether the romance is a fan of me is another story…lol. But, seriously, the romance in this film is wonderful because like some of my other all time favorites, this film covers mature romantic struggles.

With Aaron and Jane, we are presented with one of the most used stereotypes from romcoms: the best friend who’s in love with the main character. I think they both want to love each other in that way, but the timing gets in the way. Jane’s not ready to let someone in while Aaron is more than ready.

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That flinch THO. #RealityBites

 

And then Tom enters their lives and catches Jane’s attention. He’s attractive and confident and interested…and they do actually feel real things for each other. But, again, Jane lets her walls get in the way, because, timing-wise, she’s just not ready.

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He’s so TALL.

I think this is something not generally discussed in romantic films, the idea of not being ready for someone when they come into your life. There’s a reality there, so much so that when you see these three characters meet each other again at the end of the film, it doesn’t feel forced.

Because it’s still relevant, absolutely hilarious, and filled with brilliant dialogue and fantastic performances!

If you’ve never seen Broadcast News, you need to watch ASAP. If you have seen it, I guarantee it warrants another look, if only to realize just how much you relate to Holly Hunter’s character…or maybe that’s just me. I don’t think so…lol.

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Vintage trailer below:

Gifs property of Twentieth Century Fox.

Pushing the pre-code envelope: “Torch Singer”

As anyone who’s read my movie musings knows, I love Claudette Colbert as evidenced by my posts on It Happened One Night and Midnight. There’s another favorite of mine (heck, I love most of her films) called Torch Singer. This one has become a particular favorite of mine partially because it was my introduction to pre-code cinema.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term pre-code, it describes the period between roughly 1930-1934 when censorship was not enforced in Hollywood. As such, the storylines, characters, and innuendo they got away with seem outrageous considering the rules which did end up being enforced from 1934-1968.

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lol her underwear is pants, guys!

Some of those rules included not allowing couples to be shown in the same bed, at the same time, banned curse words, as well as not making any sort of immoral behavior look attractive or beautiful. Now, obviously filmmakers found a way to get around those rules to a certain extent, but there is something fascinating about films made during the pre-code era.

If you’re unfamiliar, Torch Singer, made in 1933, follows Sally Trent (Claudette Colbert), a woman who finds herself in a difficult situation when she becomes pregnant. She has the child and even raises her for a time, before realizing she’s just not making enough money. Ultimately, she gives up the baby for adoption. Meanwhile, the father of the child, Mike (David Manners) leaves the country, not having known about the baby in the first place. Sally changes her name to Mimi Benton and becomes a successful torch singer, drinking and partying in excess. Mimi then gets hired as the host of a radio talk show for kids and soon realizes she can use the show as a means for finding her daughter and as always…DRAMA ENSUESSSS.

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Welcome to pre-code cinema, guys!

Here are just a few reasons you need to check out Torch Singer!

The Cast

This movie, to me, is all about Claudette Colbert. It’s a fairly short film and she carries it. She finds a way to have you like her character, despite some of the bad choices she makes. This was still a year off from It Happened One Night, and obviously much more “out there,” but it’s still our same Claudette, sassy as ever!

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I can’t help but look at this gif and be like, what is that guy doing? #NeedsSomeDancingLessons?

David Manners, who was famous for his roles in horror films like Dracula and The Mummy, plays Sally/Mimi’s love interest, Mike. I’d like to say he plays a big part and you feel so much when they’re reunited, but honestly, he’s okay. It’s Claudette’s movie.

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He’s trying to be sassy, but he can’t pull it off. #RealTalk

The Script

Here we get to the fun that is pre-code. The lines are hilarious and pushing boundaries. The screenplay based on the story “Mike” by Grace Perkins, was adapted by two women, Lenore J. Coffee and Lynn Starling. As such, there’s a sensitivity to the script that I think sets it apart from other “women’s pictures” which were written by men. The story itself was tabboo just in showing an unwed woman becoming pregnant in the first place, not to mention the real doubts she has as to what kind of mother she will be. It definitely feels like it’s from a female point of view.

Additionally, I love that the star of this film is not the romance, but the reuniting of a mother and her child. That is where the emotional weight lies in this film, not with her ex-lover, but with her daughter. For a film that’s only a little over an hour, Torch Singer and Colbert’s performance has a lot to it.

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I’M
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NOT
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CRYINNNNG.

The Lines:

Okay, there’s just too many good ones not to share a few:

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or:

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and this one where Mike tells Mimi she’s become hard:

 

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The Singing

I’m also a musical fanatic as most people who know me know and as such, I get a kick out of seeing Claudette sing her torch songs with her raspy, yet still beautiful, voice.

It’s a sweet, feminist melodrama and a great introduction to pre-code cinema!

Written by two women, starring a woman, and about a woman’s struggles, this film is definitely a #FeministClassic and it’s great way into pre-code cinema, where women really got their chance to shine, in shades of grey as all different kinds of people. There’s no trailer for the film unfortunately, but take my advice, go out and buy the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection set from Universal. It’s one-hundred percent worth it and I promise, you’ll be a pre-code convert after devouring those films!

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A mother’s advice. Maybe a bit soon for a seven year-old, but whatever…

Gifs and photos property of Paramount Pictures.

Why it’s important to remember a movie is not old if you’ve never seen it

Yesterday, film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne passed away. While some of you who read my blog may not be familiar with his name or even his face, his death is one of the “celebrity” deaths which has hit me the hardest. I’ve spoken about TCM a lot on this blog as well as the experiences I’ve had attending the TCM Film Festival the last seven years (omg how has that much time passed?!), but I haven’t said much about Osborne himself.

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My favorite quote…

To be fair, most people who meet me wouldn’t think I had much in common with Osborne. I grew up in the age of social media and smartphones. Many friends and acquaintances think my classic film obsession is strange…even though they don’t say it. They don’t quite understand it. Some of my favorites reactions…”They [classic films] just don’t hold my attention” or “they’re too slow” or “Ugh, they’re in black & white”or “the acting was not real enough.”

So, to put it mildly, I spend a good deal of time defending classic film. Nevertheless, I take pride in introducing my favorites to friends/random people I meet on the street. I feel that I’m one of the lucky ones. I was indoctrinated with a love for classic film through my dad. His encyclopedic knowledge and love of film had a huge impact on me. We would routinely spend nights together watching a movie on TCM and so, I got used to Mr. Osborne and his intros. He was a part of the family, in our living room, almost every night.

Osborne, who died at the age of 84 was the host of TCM was for over twenty years. But, he had had a career before that. He started as an actor in the fifties, knew all the greats, and was first and foremost, a film fan. There’s a reason he was so believable in his intros – he knew this stuff forward and back, and genuinely LOVED IT.

In college, I had to do a fake campaign about an issue I cared about. So, of course, what did I choose? Classic film. My campaign poster is below. This is really the crux of why I started this blog in the first place. The only way to keep these films alive is through new, young audiences. After reading an obit article about Robert yesterday, I realized that my brilliant marketing slogan was low-key stolen from Robert’s mouth.

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such good movies! 

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the first TCM Festival when I was just seventeen years old. Though our interaction was brief, his kindness, openness, and passion was apparent. I think he really enjoyed that we’d attended the festival as a family, something that was rare the first year. My brothers routinely made fun of my dad’s adoration for Osborne, but it was all in good fun.

Though he may not have realized it, he was just as important as the people he interviewed. Literally, he would get a standing ovation at every TCM Festival event he hosted. People cared about him, they felt like they knew him. I felt like I knew him. The best way to honor him is to continuing to pass on the gift that is classic film. Keep introducing classic film to the next generation because really, when you think about it, is a movie old if you’ve never seen it?

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Ignore how truly awful I look in this photo. #Oy #Braces

RIP Robert Osborne. You’ll be missed.

Featured photo: Beauty and the Boss, pre-code movie

The Charms and Flaws of Hannah Fidell’s ‘6 Years’

Back in February of 2015, I got a screening invitation for a movie called 6 Years. Though I was intrigued by the poster, I couldn’t make it to the screening. Months later, I noticed it, while doing the random, late night Netflix search and decided to give it a watch.

While the film is definitely flawed, I found it to be mesmerizing and thought provoking. Produced by the ever-wonderful Duplass brothers and written/directed by Hannah Fidell, 6 Years unflinchingly explores all sorts of relationship issues including adultery and physical abuse. However, to me the film at its core is really about the fact that sometimes, as sad as it is, we outgrow relationships. There’s still love, but a time comes when both parties need to move on and that’s more heartbreaking than anything!

If you’re not familiar, 6 Years follows Melanie (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield), two halves of a young couple that has been together for six years (title!). Dan is about to graduate college and possibly move away for a job. Melanie still has a year left of school. Thus, they’re in a weird phase of their life and drama ensues.

Here’s why you should watch 6 Years on Netflix ASAP:

The Creative Team

The Duplass Brothers, who directed this film are for real responsible for many of our tv/film obsessions. They’ve produced the much lauded HBO comedy Togetherness (I’m still mourning its cancellation!), The Overnight, and the upcoming sure-to-be-amazing Anna Kendrick film, Table 17. They’re great about supporting indie writers/directors like Hannah Fidell, who previously wrote and directed A Teacher, which was another Sundance gem.

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As my mother would say…they’re very Jewish.

The Cast

The strength of this film rests largely on its two young, intensely talented leads: Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Taissa is the younger sister of acclaimed Bates Motel actress, Vera Farmiga, and she certainly got the acting gene. She’s emotional, yet I never felt like a moment was false.

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What if he was just like, um, no?

Similarly, Ben Rosenfield is a revelation in this film.You might know Ben from his stint on Boardwalk Empire or as one of Logan Lerman’s roommates in the recent indie, Indignation. However, 6 Years is his chance to shine and he does. He’s insanely charming and I’m not just saying that because he has great hair, though of course he DOES. 

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Also, can we talk about his hair PLEASE?

Both of their characters do some pretty awful things and yet, Dan and Melanie are still relatable. That’s called acting chops, people!

The Script/Outline

IMHO, this no-real-script thing is usually a detriment and I do think that this may be one of the film’s major downfalls. However, what the film loses in wit, it gains in verisimilitude. Fidell’s script was apparently an outline which included pictures. Similar to Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy, the outline was more of a jumping off point than anything else. Rosenfield and Farmiga knew what was supposed to happen, but they improvised their actual lines. Though according to my dad the film had one too many curse words, 6 Years presents college age kids the way they really talk and thus, makes the characters feel more genuine.

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BURNNNNN.

The Incredible Indie Soundtrack

I’m not gonna lie – the soundtrack for this film is maybe eighty-five percent of why you should watch it. Literally, the moment it was over, I was pulling up the soundtrack’s playlist on Spotify. It’s seriously amazing. Here’s one of my favorite songs from the film:

The Themes

For all its flaws, I loved the film because of the issues it tackles and the way it tackles them. So many times, especially in regards to serious issues like abuse, we tend to vilify someone in a relationship. From the outside, it’s very easy to do that. This person’s abusive – simple answer, leave them! The film makes you feel like you’re in it with them and as despicable as both of them can be, we relate to both of them and can’t put either of them into a box of the “good guy” or “bad guy.” They both make big mistakes, but ultimately their love for each other is real. It’s just not enough to keep them together.

The film is also about decisions in your early twenties. There’s a scene where Dan is telling his mother that he was offered a job at a record label in New York, but that he’s considering not taking it because Mel still has a year left in school. His mother tells him that the decisions you make at this age affect the course of your life and so, you need to think about yourself, be a little selfish. I love Dan’s answer too, “It’s kinda stressful.” I feel ya, Dan. Decisions are always stressful because you don’t know how they will turn out.

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So sweet. 

It’s emotional and thought provoking

When I see a movie, the thing I’m most hoping for is that it gives me something to think about. For a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, 6 Years packs a lot. While I think the film is far from being perfect or even one of my favorite films, it leaves you with something to think about and to me, that’s one of the major purposes of cinema.

It is an emotional one so only watch this if you’re in the mood to feel ALL the feels – including the bad ones! I think it’s worth it just for the performances by Ben and Taissa, who are sure to go on to big things!

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I’m feeling TOO MANY FEELSSSS.

Trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of Netflix.

‘Say Anything’ will make you smile no matter what your relationship status

Okay, so Valentine’s Day is upon us and even though I’m a happily single gal, I’ll take any excuse to talk about my favorite romances. And Say Anything is one of my all-time favorites! I love showing this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it, because, *spoiler alert*, it’s impossible not to love.

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SETTING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS SINCE 1989

If you’re unfamiliar, Say Anything, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, follows Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), a high school graduate atypically comfortable with the uncertainty of his own future. He doesn’t know what he wants to be necessarily and he’s okay with that. On the other hand, valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) thinks she knows exactly what she wants. Everyone tells Lloyd that he could never make it with Diane, but he believes. He asks her out and they fall deeply for each other. Opposites really do attract. But, as with all teen romances, there are complications. DRAAAAMA ENSUES.

Here are a few reasons why you’ll fall deeply in love with Say Anything:

The Cast

I know I always say this, but the cast in this film is incredible. John Cusack had spent the 80’s playing teenagers, so it’s no surprise that by the time this film came along, Cusack wasn’t exactly ecstatic. However, once he read Crowe’s script, he was in…and what a difference his presence makes. He IS Lloyd Dobler. His charm carries the film.

“He [Lloyd Dobler] isn’t a tunnel-versioned urban teen preoccupied with sex, school, and his job. I realized I would never be 20 again so I might as well cap off that phase of my career on a positive note. I’m glad I took the part.” – John Cusack

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And he can sort of play the guitar…<3

Ione Skye is equally important, but unlike Cusack, she was fairly new to acting at the time. This may be a weird thing to point out, but I appreciated that Skye was not perfect. She was obviously gorgeous, but she had a kind of lisp and I don’t know, she just seemed like a real person. She was genuine and natural and you could understand why Lloyd liked her.

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Girl, I FEEL YOU.

Lili Taylor is also fantastic as Lloyd’s friend, Corey. You might know her from Six Feet Under or American Crime or something else entirely. She’s a big character actress. But, to me, she will always be this character. Her saga with Joe is relatable AF.

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YAS QUEEN.

Paul Mahoney cannot be undervalued either. Another great character actor, his portrayal of James Court, Diane’s father, is layered. In a lot of ways, he’s a bad guy. But, you can’t quite hate him. He loves Diane and in his mind, all the immoral things he’s done, have been for her.

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Just trying to be a good dad…

Bonus: Joan Cusack is wonderful AS ALWAYS. She plays the sister to Lloyd, quite a stretch for her. Ha.

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Her hair is so 80’s.

The Script

Cameron Crowe had written the script for another teen movie eight years earlier: Fast Times at Ridgemont High which Clueless‘ Amy Heckerling directed. Though both scripts are well written, tonally they are very different. Strangely, I feel sort of disconnected from that film. I didn’t see myself in it. Say Anything felt more true to my high school experiences. The characters weren’t stereotypes. They were people.

Diane is ambitious and kind. She thinks the world of her father and ultimately, finds that he doesn’t live up to that. We all get to that point, some earlier than others, where we’re forced to see our parents as people. Her father is far from perfect, but he does love her and that’s worth something.

Lloyd is happy within himself. Once he falls in love with Diane, he finds his post-high school purpose. As a society, we tend to judge people who get into serious relationships too early. We say, they’re too young to know what they really want. And perhaps that’s true. Maybe Diane and Lloyd’s love affair doesn’t last, but this is a movie and I want a happy ending, damnit!

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So sweet!

Crowe based the film on his own heartbreak and it shows. The romance as well as its complications feels genuine. Diane and Lloyd fall hard for one another and it’s sweet and awkward and heartbreaking.

Also, the pen thing. Epic.”I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”

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I mean, EPIC, amiright?

The Direction

Believe it or not, Lawrence Kasdan was originally going to direct the film. Prolific producer James L. Brooks had met Crowe when he was researching Broadcast News and hired him to write a script about a girl who finds out her father is a criminal. Once the script was complete, Kasdan told Crowe, “You are that main character. You should direct it” (Interview, Cameron Crowe).

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This relationship always makes me smile.

This was Crowe’s directorial debut and he’s been very candid about the fact that he was learning on the job. I think the first film a director makes is always fascinating because it’s the most pure. They’re really trying, they’re excited. They don’t know what the “right” way to do something is. This was certainly true with Reality Bites and Ben Stiller as well as with Time after Time and Nicholas Meyer.

The Music

Crowe started as music reporter for Rolling Stone, so I think it’s safe to say, the music he chose was important. Beyond the seminal boom box scene which blasted Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, the soundtrack for the film also had hits by Depeche Mode, Cheap Trick and Nancy Wilson. The 80’s, man. You’ve gotta love it.

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Honestly, aren’t we all?

The Romance

Again, just, YES. The romance is everything. I have a running joke. I’ve never been on a plane and I keep telling my friends, I’m just waiting for my Lloyd Dobler. When they actually understand the reference (which happens maybe 50 percent of the time), I make them laugh.

But, back to the romance. Just look at these gifs and feel ALL THE FEELS.

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The first time you talk to your crush…the awkwardness!
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PICTURE FUCKING PERFECTION.
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This is her “I’m so messed up” look
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I always watched this scene and was like, “Maybe he should shower first.” Just a thought!
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You just described every great success story. ❤ ❤ ❤

It’s a seminal, heartfelt, old-school, yet modern romance!

Seminal is the key word. If you haven’t seen it, you need to ASAP. Your life will just be better for it. Plus, if you’re single on Valentine’s Day, IMHO, this is a good way to spend your time because it gives us all hope that there is a Lloyd Dobler out there for each and every one of us, or a Diane Court!

Plus, the Peter Gabriel song is just really good.

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of 20th Century Fox Films.