Whether we choose to admit it or not, all of us, in one way or another, are suckers for nostalgia. So, with less than a week until Valentine’s Day, we decided this would be prime opportunity to do a little throwback chick flick clip Thunderdome: two clips enter, one clip leaves. Well, neither of them are leaving, but you get the idea.
Today, we’ve got the boombox scene from Say Anything…
Up against the bleachers rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You from 10 Things I Hate About You.
And proudly repping Team Ledger, we have Paul Adler:
Okay, first off, let’s just consider the respective amounts of effort and thought—and types of thought—that went into each of these clips.
Literally all John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler had to do was get a boombox, maybe spring for some batteries, and dig up a Peter Gabriel cassette. Meanwhile, Heath Ledger’s character, Patrick Verona, had to figure out how to hijack his high school football stadium’s PA system with a wireless mic—revolutionary technology at the time, I’m sure—and then somehow rope the entire damn marching band (all of whom are, by the way, wearing shirts that say “BAND” on them, so, like I guess we know who they are?) into playing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” while he zig-zags around the bleachers. Can you even fathom how much effort that would take? And I’m not even talking about Ledger himself suppressing his Australian accent so he can sing not only a capella before the band comes in, but on key once they do—I mean, what does someone have to do to con an entire marching band into helping him serenade a girl during soccer practice? Seriously! I used to be the head of the drum section in high school (we didn’t march; we were known as the “pep band,” but that’s a different story altogether) and I couldn’t even get my section to come in on time, let alone direct a band, sans conductor, to play a song from memory while marching in formation. What kinds of favors did Ledger’s character owe after this stunt?
In terms of sheer effort, 10 Things wins in the romance category, hands down. But romance is—as I’m sure my girlfriend would tell you if pressed—as much about the thought that goes into a gesture as the effort. And what’s Cusack thinking about? He’s playing “In Your Eyes” because it was the song to which he first banged Ione Skye’s character, Diane Court. Meanwhile, Heath Ledger is thinking about active seduction, as opposed to memory. Cusack is trying to trigger a reminder of the first time he and Ione Skye did the deed; Ledger is trying to change Julia Styles’ attitude toward him, which is much more difficult, given the circumstance (I mean, Styles’ Kat is directly lifted from Shakespeare’s Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew—whom do you think is the tougher egg to crack?).
It’s no wonder Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for playing the Joker (did you really think I was going to let a piece partly written about Heath Ledger slip past without some sort of Batman reference?), while the last memorable movie John Cusack was in was 2012—which, quite fittingly, is about the apocalypse. Even at the beginning of his career, Ledger was a genius actor, while Cusack was a smarmy, faux-intellectual, hopeless romantic and remained typecast as such until he got too old to make movies about trying to win back the hearts and minds of mid-America’s young women. Heath Ledger is thinking, here; he’s plotting, scheming. John Cusack is holding up a boombox and thinking back to the first time he had sex with this girl—he’s mentally masturbating. He’d be arrested if he pulled that shit off today. The whole scenario is creepy as hell! It’s entirely possible this scene from Say Anything… was the worst thing to come out of the year 1989. Other than me. And Taylor Swift. Alright, just Taylor Swift.
C’mon, you’ve got the Joker versus Rob Gordon. Ennis Del Mar (“Ah wish ah knew how ta quit yew!”) versus Denny Lachance. You think this is a contest? Ledger for the win.
Richard Thompson, on the other hand, is a strong believer in the power of the boombox:
Was Heath Ledger (RIP) a better actor than John Cusack? Yes. Is “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” a better song than “In Your Eyes?” Yes. Am I already conceding defeat? Don’t bet your Peter Gabriel cassette collection on it, because despite all of the components that went into making these competing chick flick clips, the boombox scene from “Say Anything” is straight up the superior movie moment because it basically set the stage for pretty much every other chick flick after it.
You could argue, and I know this because I’m doing it, that in terms of over-the-top demonstrations of love in movies, Cusack’s boombox badassery was patient zero. Just think about it. Without boombox scene you have no flashcards scene from “Love Actually.” No “You complete me” from “Jerry McGuire.” And yes, no Frankie Valli-inspired karaoke moment from “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Legend has it that the Nicolas Sparks watched the boombox scene from “Say Anything” the day before his first day of law school, wrote a strongly-worded letter to his authoritarian father that his true calling was writing romance novels and “you’re just going to have to deal with it,” immediately started work on “The Notebook” and the rest is history.
Did I just make that up? Sure, but you probably believed it for a second, because that’s how goddamn timeless the boombox scene is, if no other reason than for the sheer fact that you can literally just reference “the boombox scene,” and people will know exactly what you’re talking about even if they haven’t seen the movie.
Oh, yeah, and not a single word of dialogue is spoken throughout the entire clip. Why? Because actions speak louder than words, nerds.
Mic drop. Exit stage left. Fade to black.