The boy with the boom box stayed with Chris Grosso—and helped him get his first book published.
Kickboxing, the sport of the future!
Okay, so while that may have not panned out for Lloyd Dobler in 1989’s classic “Say Anything”, John Cusack’s portrayal of Dobler succeeded tenfold where kickboxing failed, as it became one of the greatest underdog stories ever told.
You know that old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, Lloyd Dobler should be that adage’s poster boy. At face value, he’s a goofy underachiever. But underneath his schlubby exterior, magic happens. Lloyd is a man with integrity, optimism and a huge heart, an endearing mix that touched me deeply the first time I saw “Say Anything” in my mid-teens.
In the film, Lloyd has his sights set on the class valedictorian Diane Court. She’s described as “a brain with the body of a game show hostess,” by one of his friends, the same friend who also lovingly tells Lloyd that the possibility of the two of them as a couple has all the tangibility of a pipe dream. Lloyd refuses to be deterred, and this is where the film’s most crucial theme played into my life… believing that anything is possible.
The hackneyed “if you dream it, you can achieve it” ideology actually resonated with me thanks to “Say Anything” and Lloyd (take that, “The Secret”). I’m sure others have found that inspiration elsewhere, through various sports, role models, teachers, parents and so forth, but for me, it all began with Lloyd Dobler. I’ve carried him with me, and his influence had no small part in me achieving my own dream—my first book coming out in March via Simon & Schuster.
Of course, I understand “Say Anything” is just a movie, so as I sat down to write this piece, I had to ask myself a question: “Why does this Hollywood story (a late 80s Hollywood story at that) still make my heart all mushy, and my mind feel empowered some 20 years later?” My answer? Well, it’s rather simple really—because it’s fucking brilliant, that’s why! It’s filled with humor and hope and moments of self-doubt and vulnerability and it’s not afraid to poke fun at itself through exploiting its characters’ flaws.
I mean, who amongst us can’t relate to its essential emotions—the humor, self-doubt, hope, spontaneity and the crème de la crème of all comin-of-age tales—the dreaded fear of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with another? All of these experiences, the good and the bad, are what makes us human. But what’s most important is cultivating the courage to believe in ourselves, and our potential, exactly as we are in this moment. Embracing our imperfectly perfect selves exactly like Lloyd did.
Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, urged us that in life, we should “follow our bliss,” which is exemplified perfectly through Lloyd’s pursuit of his own bliss—Diane Court. And while my personal bliss may not be found in a brain with the body of a game show hostess, it is indeed one that I would travel to the ends of the earth to honor, just like Lloyd did in “Say Anything”.
One last lesson that Lloyd Dobler taught me is that being a man— no, being a good human being—is about being brave, vulnerable and fearless in the pursuit of our passions.
So to wrap this up, I’ll share one of my favorite scenes in the film (no, it’s not the quintessential boom box over the head scene, though of course that one is the shit too). It comes at the very end of the film, when Lloyd and Diane are on a plane headed to England (where she’ll be attending school).
Diane turns to Lloyd and says, “Nobody thought we would do this. Nobody thinks this will work,” to which he replies “No. But you just described every great success story.”
You’re goddamn right Lloyd. I can’t thank you enough for instilling that lesson deeply in my heart—one which still rings the truest of truths for me all these years later.
Now, I’m off to go listen to Hey Soul Classics… ’cause I bought my own.
Photo: “Say Anything”, 1989, Gracie Films